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World Vision reportedly lays off 120 employees in Gaza after Israel freezes group's bank accounts

Sept. 9, 2016 9:49 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 10, 2016 4:02 P.M.)
GAZA (Ma'an) -- Christian NGO World Vision reportedly laid off 120 employees working on projects in the besieged Gaza Strip after Israeli authorities froze the organization’s bank accounts, a Palestinian source told Ma’an on Friday.

The source, who spoke to Ma’an anonymously, said that as a result of Israeli authorities freezing the organization's bank accounts they were unable to pay salaries to the workers, most of whom were appointed in the aftermath of the 2014 Israeli assault on Gaza.

The source added that only 25 employees remained at the organization following the decision.

A spokesperson for World Vision in the West Bank and Gaza was not immediately available to confirm or comment on the information.

World Vision has become a target by Israeli authorities in recent weeks after Muhammad al-Halabi, the head of the group’s office in Gaza, was charged by Israel 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.”

“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.

Hamas 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.”

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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