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Israel sentences UNDP employee for working with Hamas

Jan. 6, 2017 11:45 A.M. (Updated: Jan. 6, 2017 4:47 P.M.)
An Israeli soldier runs past a flag belonging to the Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip, on Nov. 17, 2012. (AFP/Abbas Momani, File)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The office of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) released a statement Wednesday confirming the sentencing of one of its employees by an Israeli court for “providing services to an illegal entity.”

The accusations against Waheed al-Bursh, a Palestinian engineer working for the UNDP in Gaza, came out in August, with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs saying that it had contacted the UN over the detention and indictment of al-Bursh “on charges of using his position to assist the Hamas terrorist organization.”

“Israel has informed these officials of its expectation that the UN, and especially its aid agencies, will unequivocally condemn Hamas for exploiting the humanitarian aid system for its own aims and will take concrete measures to ensure that humanitarian activities actually assist those in need in Gaza instead of assisting the terrorist leaders of Hamas,” the ministry said.

Israel accused al-Bursh of transporting 300 tons of rubble he was handling as part of a UNDP rubble disposal project to a Hamas-run facility.

UNDP has reportedly removed more than one million tons of rubble since the 2014 war in Gaza.

In Wednesday’s statement, the UNDP spokesperson said the “UNDP has noted the court’s finding that Mr. Al Bursh has been sentenced for providing services to an illegal entity, without intent to cause harm. The court indicates that Mr. Al Bursh will be released on 12 January 2017.”

The statement highlighted that the outcome “confirms that there was no wrongdoing by UNDP.”

“UNDP has zero tolerance for wrongdoing in its programmes and is committed to the highest standards of transparency and accountability. UNDP will continue to ensure that any misconduct is immediately brought to light and addressed appropriately,” the statement said.

Back in August, the Hamas movement vehemently denied Israeli claims that it had received funding or assistance from al-Bursh.

“These Israeli allegations are invalid and untrue, and they are part of Israel’s plan to reinforce the siege on the Gaza Strip by going after international organizations working in Gaza,” Hamas senior spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

He called on the international community to intervene to stop these Israeli actions, saying they would have “dangerous consequences.”

Also in August, Israel announced that Muhammad al-Halabi, the head of the Gaza office of Christian NGO World Vision who was detained at a border crossing in June, was being charged with siphoning off funds from the organization to Hamas, while a Palestinian employee of Save the Children also reportedly accused of being a Hamas member.

The spate of detentions of aid workers over their alleged involvement with Hamas comes amid an already dire situation in the besieged Gaza Strip.

The Gaza Strip has suffered under an Israeli military blockade since 2007, when Hamas was elected to rule the territory. Residents of Gaza suffer from high unemployment and poverty rates, as well as the consequences of three devastating wars with Israel since 2008, most recently in the summer of 2014.

The 51-day Israeli offensive, termed “Operation Protective Edge” by Israeli authorities, resulted in the killings of at least 1,462 Palestinian civilians, a third of whom were children, according to the UN.

Since then, Israel has repeatedly restricted the amount of construction material allowed into the Gaza Strip, claiming that Hamas diverted portions of it.

The UN has said that the besieged Palestinian territory could become "uninhabitable" by 2020, as its 1.8 million residents remain in dire poverty due to the nearly decade-long Israeli blockade that has crippled the economy, while continuing to experience the widespread destruction wrought by the Israeli offenses, and the slow-paced reconstruction efforts aimed at rebuilding homes for some 75,000 of Palestinians who remain displaced following the last Israeli assault.

Recovery efforts have also been hindered by a severe shortage of foreign funding.

Earlier this year, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), which has played a leading role in rebuilding destroyed homes in the beleaguered coastal enclave, said that of the $720 million required for its emergency shelter program, donor countries had pledged only $247 million.

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