An Australian government probe has found no evidence that taxpayer money was misused by NGO World Vision in the Gaza Strip, despite ongoing allegations by the Israeli government that millions of dollars were diverted from the organization to the Hamas movement, the de facto ruling party of the besieged coastal enclave.
Muhammad al-Halabi, the head of the group’s office in Gaza, was detained by Israeli forces in Juneand was charged by Israel with financing Hamas with funds from the organization on Aug. 4.
Immediately following the accusations against al-Halabi -- of which World Vision investigated in August and found no evidence -- Australia, which according to AFP had given millions of dollars to the Christian NGO over the years, immediately suspended its funding for World Vision’s Gaza programs and opened an investigation headed by the government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
AFP cited a statement on Tuesday from the DFAT, saying that “the review uncovered nothing to suggest any diversion of government funds,” adding that the Australian government’s funding to World Vision programs in Gaza would remain frozen pending the result of al-Halabi’s trial."
Halabi’s court case is ongoing, but his lawyers have accused the prosecution of refusing to hand over much of the evidence.
World Vision itself is also conducting an independent review of its operations to determine whether any graft occurred.
The DFAT said funding to World Vision’s programs would remain frozen pending the result of the probe and Halabi’s trial, which Israel postponed to October 2017.
AFP quoted Tim Costello, chief advocate for World Vision Australia, as saying he was “very pleased and very relieved” with the findings of the DFAT investigation.
The DFAT report came as new allegations from the Israeli army surfaced, accusing Muhammad Murtaja, the director of the Gaza office of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA), of diverting funds intended for TIKA to the military wing of Hamas.
Murtaja was detained by Israeli forces at the Erez crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip on Feb. 13 on suspicions that he was working for Hamas, which Israel considers a "terrorist organization." According to the Israeli army, Murtaja “falsified lists of needy Gazans, transferred aid packages, and diverted millions of shekels to the terror group.”
In Tuesday’s report on the case against Murtaja, the Israeli army cited the case against al-Halabi and reiterated Israeli claims that he funneled “tens of millions of dollars” to Hamas’ military wing, saying Murtaja’s case was “far from the first time that Hamas has recruited and exploited the positions of humanitarian workers in order to divert aid intended for Gaza’s civilians to terror.”
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