The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, on Saturday denied allegations that he had been trying to transfer funds to Hamas. Serry’s denial came in response to a report earlier in the evening that Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman intends to expel the Jerusalem-based Middle East official for seeking to transfer tens of millions of dollars of funds to the terror group.
Serry acknowledged in a statement released Saturday night that he was on a visit to Qatar a few weeks ago but denied that talks of a UN role in the payment of salaries in Gaza — an issue described in the statement as having “potentially destabilizing effects on security in Gaza,” and seemingly the basis on which Liberman made his allegations — took place.
Serry said he was approached by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah on the matter but made it clear that the UN “would only be able to be of assistance if acceptable to all stakeholders, including Israel.”
The UN official added that the information was “immediately shared with Israeli authorities at the working level” and that Israel reacted negatively.
“For the past seven years, that I have been UN Special Coordinator I have carried out my work with impartiality in an effort to assist both Israelis and Palestinians. It is now disheartening to hear that in considering a request from one of the parties in the aforementioned effort, the integrity of my role is being questioned,” his statement read.
Earlier Saturday, Israeli media reported that Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman intended to expel Serry for seeking to transfer tens of millions of dollars of funds to Hamas, Israeli television reported Saturday night.
Liberman was set to seek the approval of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the move and have him declared persona non grata, Channel 2 said. The report added that Liberman would discuss the move, which could place Israel on a collision course with the world body, with officials at his ministry on Sunday.
Liberman was reported to have long regarded Serry as biased against Israel.
The TV report said that Serry has been seeking relentlessly to transfer funds to Hamas in Gaza, to the immense displeasure of Liberman. Israel, the US and others designate the Islamic extremist Hamas, which is formally committed to the destruction of Israel, as a terrorist organization.
Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, and continues to rule there. It recently agreed on a process of reconciliation with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s rival Fatah faction, and backed a newly established PA government, but that process is collapsing because Hamas been accused by Israel of orchestrating the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers on June 12. Abbas has demanded that the youths be returned, and Hamas has castigated him as an Israeli stooge.
According to the report, Serry initially sought to arrange the transfer of $20 million to Hamas in Gaza, from Qatar, via Abbas’s PA, but he was rebuffed. He then asked Israel to facilitate the transfer, but was again rejected. Finally, he has reportedly been suggesting that the UN itself take the money from Qatar and then transfer it to Hamas in Gaza.
The TV report said Liberman considered Serry’s actions to mark an effort to legitimize Hamas.
Liberman was also said to be dismayed by a statement issued by Serry on Friday that said the UN was “deeply concerned” over the IDF’s ongoing security operation in the West Bank aimed at locating the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers. The Israeli campaign has resulted in the deaths of three Palestinians and the injury of many more, Serry’s statement noted.
In comments that Liberman reportedly considered to lack balance, Serry said that while the UN acknowledged that tightened restrictions on movement throughout the West Bank were necessary as part of efforts to bring the youths home safely, the UN urged Israel to show restraint and carry out the operation in compliance with international law. The UN special coordinator further called on the Israeli government to respect the lives, dignity and livelihoods of Palestinians.
“The Special Coordinator is concerned that without restraint from all sides in these dramatic circumstances, it will become even more difficult to address an already critical security situation on the ground,” a press statement issued by Serry read.
“[Israel] should thus seek to minimize the impact of security operations on individuals who have committed no offense and investigate allegations of excessive use of force, including the killing of civilians.”
The UN official emphasized that the international body continues to call for the immediate release of the three Israeli teenagers.
Israeli forces have embarked on a massive campaign to locate the three kidnapped youths — Eyal Yifrach, 19, Naftali Fraenkel, 16, and Gil-ad Shaar, 16 — while simultaneously destroying parts of the Hamas terror infrastructure in the West Bank.
Over the past week, thousands of Israeli troops have searched hundreds of locations in the West Bank and arrested over 350 Palestinians, many of them from Hamas.