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Israel postpones trial of World Vision employee, NGO finds no evidence for detention

Aug. 30, 2016 8:10 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 31, 2016 4:30 P.M.)
GAZA (Ma’an) -- Christian NGO World Vision reiterated its condemnation of Israel’s detention of the head of the group’s office in the Gaza Strip Muhammad al-Halabi in a statement on Tuesday, as Israel postponed the controversial trial until October.

Al-Halabi’s brother told Ma’an that the trial of the imprisoned aid worker, first detained at the Erez crossing between the coastal enclave and Israel on June 15, was postponed until October, according to al-Halabi’s lawyer.

Meanwhile, President and Chief Executive Officer of World Vision Kevin Jenkins said in a statement that an investigation was conducted by the group into Israeli claims that al-Halabi siphoned funds from the organization to Hamas, revealing that no evidence was found that could uphold the charge.

Amnesty International also reported that Israeli authorities initially prevented al-Halabi from speaking with a lawyer, but was eventually permitted to do so.

Al-Halabi reportedly informed his lawyer that he was being mistreated in Israeli custody, Amnesty International said, while the group also demanded that Israel hold a fair trial for al-Halabi.

Israeli authorities charged al-Halabi with financing Hamas with funds from the organization on August 4. In a statement at the time, Israeli Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Dore Gold had claimed that al-Halabi had diverted 60 percent of World Vision’s annual budget for the Gaza Strip to Hamas, calling him a “major figure in the Hamas terrorist organization.”

Hamas also denied involvement with al-Halabi, with Hamas spokesman Abd al-Latif Qanou saying at the time that the World Vision employee “had no relation with Hamas of any kind.”

“The investigation revealed much information concerning additional figures in the Gaza Strip who exploited their work in humanitarian aid organizations and UN institutions on behalf of Hamas,” Gold added at the time, raising fears that more Palestinian aid workers in Gaza would be detained and accused of working with Hamas.

World Vision expressed “shock” at the allegations against al-Halabi and said at the time that it had suspended its operations in Gaza and was conducting a full external review of its finances.

However, the group said it had still “not seen any of the evidence” corroborating Israel’s claims, and cast doubts over the credibility of some the the Israeli government’s assertions, as claims emerged that al-Halabi was tortured into confessing the charges now levied against him.

“World Vision’s cumulative operating budget in Gaza for the past ten years was approximately $22.5 million, which makes the alleged amount of up to $50 million being diverted hard to reconcile,” the organization said in its statement, adding that it went through rigorous background checks when hiring employees.

“It is tragic that this issue is taking us away from our work on important issues of injustice and poverty affecting billions of children around the world,” the NGO added.

In the wake of the World Vision case, other NGOs have also been in Israel’s crosshairs, with a Palestinian employee of Save the Children also reportedly accused of being a Hamas member, and a Palestinian engineer employed by the UNDP indicted on charges of “using his position to assist the Hamas terrorist organization” nearly a week after al-Halabi was detained.
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