Israel charges UN employee in Gaza Strip for assisting Hamas

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JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel on Tuesday said it indicted a Palestinian U.N. employee in the Gaza Strip, accusing him of assisting the territory's Islamic militant Hamas rulers, just days after it charged the Gaza manager of the international charity World Vision for allegedly funneling millions to the group.

Israel's Shin Bet internal security agency said 38-year-old Waheed Borsh has worked as an engineer for UNDP, the U.N. development agency, for 13 years. It said he was arrested in July and confessed to using his position to help Hamas. He was indicted two weeks ago, it said.

The Shin Bet said Borsh used UNDP resources last year to build a jetty for Hamas' naval forces and that upon request by Hamas he persuaded his managers to prioritize the reconstruction of houses damaged in conflicts with Israel in areas where Hamas members lived.

Israel's Foreign Ministry said it has informed U.N. officials of the arrest and the allegations and expects the U.N. to "take concrete measures to ensure that humanitarian activities actually assist those in need in Gaza instead of assisting the terrorist leaders of Hamas."

Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon said he was concerned about a "worrying trend of U.N. exploitation by Hamas."

In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qasem denied the allegations. "These Israeli claims are baseless and the purpose of these claims is to justify the continued siege on Gaza."

UNDP said in a statement that it is "greatly concerned" by the allegations and that it has "zero tolerance for wrongdoing" in its programs and projects. "UNDP is conducting a thorough internal review of the processes and circumstances surrounding the allegation," it said.

Tuesday's accusations are less severe than those aimed at Mohammed el-Halabi, World Vision's Gaza office project manager, who last week was charged with diverting some 60 percent of the organization's yearly budget to Hamas' armed wing.

The Shin Bet says el-Halabi crafted an elaborate scheme to funnel funds, food, medical supplies and agricultural equipment to Hamas. He fraudulently listed the children of Hamas operatives as wounded, created straw organizations, and inflated project costs to divert cash, the agency said. Building supplies intended to support farming projects were transferred to Hamas for constructing tunnels and military installations, according to the Shin Bet.

World Vision has stopped its Gaza operations while investigations continue but said Monday that Israel has accused el-Halabi of funneling what appears to be an impossible sum of money to Hamas.

The Shin Bet said el-Halabi siphoned about $7.2 million a year to the Islamic militant group over a period of five years. World Vision Germany spokeswoman Silvia Holten said the charity's budget in Gaza in the last decade totaled $22.5 million.

The allegations against el-Halabi and Borsh, if proven correct, would bolster Israel's arguments for maintaining its blockade of Gaza, imposed after Hamas seized power in the coastal strip in 2007. Israel says the closure is vital to preventing Hamas from importing weapons and materials used to attack Israel. Egypt has imposed its own blockade on the territory.

Israel and Hamas has fought three wars over the past decade. Israel often accuses international aid groups of being biased against it.

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