Shin Bet: Hamas stealing Gaza aid from Turkish charities
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Shin Bet: Hamas stealing Gaza aid from Turkish charities

Security service arrests one, accuses another of funneling reconstruction money to terrorist group's military wing

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Muhammad Murtaja, 40, arrested by the Shin Bet for allegedly helping funnel money from Turkish charities to the Hamas terrorist group. (Coordinator of the Government's Activities in the Territories)
Muhammad Murtaja, 40, arrested by the Shin Bet for allegedly helping funnel money from Turkish charities to the Hamas terrorist group. (Coordinator of the Government's Activities in the Territories)

The Shin Bet security service accused two Palestinian men of funneling Gaza reconstruction funds from Turkish charities to the Hamas terrorist group.

The manager of the Gaza branch of the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA), Muhammad Murtaja, was arrested last month on suspicion that he was working on behalf of Hamas, the Shin Bet announced on Tuesday.

Mehmet Kaya, the head of the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, known by its acronym IHH, was also implicated in the Shin Bet investigation. However, Kaya has not yet been arrested.

“The egotistical Hamas terror organization has robbed funds that are meant for the needy of Gaza from international organizations. Hamas prospers at the expense of the residents of the Strip and uses donations meant for them to finance terror,” said Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, coordinator of government activities in the territories.

Palestinian children play in abandoned vehicles in an impoverished area in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis, on April 26, 2016. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)
Palestinian children play in abandoned vehicles in an impoverished area in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis, on April 26, 2016. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

According to the security agency, Murtaja took advantage of his position in TIKA in order to direct funds and resources away from “meaningful humanitarian projects” and toward Hamas’s military wing.

One apparent scam detailed by the security service allowed “millions of shekels” to be given to Hamas members in food and cash.

The Shin Bet said Murtaja replaced the names of candidates eligible for humanitarian aid with the names people who “were apparently Hamas military operatives and their families,” who then received money and benefits from TIKA.

The 40-year-old Murtaja was arrested as he attempted to travel from Gaza to Turkey.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh is greeted by supporters upon his return to Gaza City on January 27, 2017. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh is greeted by supporters upon his return to Gaza City on January 27, 2017. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)

According to the Shin Bet, Murtaja’s embezzlement of TIKA’s funds was known by Hamas’s upper echelon, “with Ismail Haniyeh at its head.”

IHH, which Israel officially considers to be a terrorist organization, was behind the 2010 Mavi Marmara flotilla, in which nine activists were killed after attacking Israeli commandos who boarded their ship.

According to the security service, Kaya used IHH money to “directly fund the activities of Hamas’s military wing.”

The Shin Bet said that the cash Kaya gave to Haniyeh and other Hamas heavyweights was used to set up a training facility for the terrorist group’s naval commandos and for purchasing materiel.

“This investigation shows the embezzlement methods used by Hamas against the international community and humanitarian aid organizations,” the Shin Bet said.

This fraud “diverts money and resources that are meant for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and needy populations,” it said.

Murtaja is believed to have joined the terror group in 2008, taking part in “training and military exercises, manufacturing weapons and improvised explosive devices and digging terror tunnels,” the Shin Bet said.

File: Still from an August 2015 Hamas video purporting to show a Gaza tunnel dug under the Israeli border. (Ynet screenshot)
File: Still from an August 2015 Hamas video purporting to show a Gaza tunnel dug under the Israeli border. (Ynet screenshot)

In his interrogations, he provided the security service with “operational information” about Hamas’s tunnel systems, war plans and weapons manufacturing, the Shin Bet said.

Last year, the Shin Bet also accused an employee of the international World Vision charity, Muhammad Halabi, of funneling money to Hamas.

On Tuesday, the Australian government, which provides a significant amount of funding to World Vision’s Gaza branch, said it found no evidence that its taxpayers’ money had been misappropriated.

“The review uncovered nothing to suggest any diversion of government funds,” DFAT said in a statement sent to AFP on Tuesday.

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.

On Monday, Israel also facilitated the transfer of NIS 300 million ($83 million) in cash from mostly Gulf states to the Gaza Strip.

The money, funds from Gulf countries and the European Union, is intended for the salaries of some 50,000 Palestinian Authority government employees in the Palestinian enclave, Channel 2 reported.

Israel has reportedly agreed to several such payments, including one last summer by Qatar of 113 million Saudi riyal ($31 million) for salaries. Over the past several years, government employees in Gaza have generally been receiving a third to half of their salaries, given how cash-strapped Hamas found itself after Egypt’s crackdown on tunnels in 2013.

The salaries crisis is said to be one of the key reasons Hamas escalated tensions with Israel in the summer of 2014, leading to a full-blown war that claimed the lives of some 2,100 Palestinians and 73 Israelis.

Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.

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