AFP — The United Nations Development Program said Tuesday it was “greatly concerned” by allegations that one of its staffers was helping the Hamas terror group, promising in a statement “a thorough internal review of the processes and circumstances surrounding the allegation.”
Israel said earlier Tuesday it had charged a UN staffer with helping the Islamist movement, the second indictment involving aid workers in Gaza in a week.
Engineer Waheed Abd Allah Bossh, who has worked for the UN Development Program since 2003, was arrested in July and charged in a civilian court in Israel on Tuesday, a government statement said.
The UNDP said it was “greatly concerned” by the allegations while Hamas, which has run the Gaza Strip since 2007, denied any involvement.
Despite the claims, the statement said, the UN remained confident it had “robust measures in place” to prevent aid diversion.
Israel said 38-year-old Bossh, from Jabaliya in northern Gaza, had been recruited by “a senior member of the Hamas terrorist organization to redirect his work for UNDP to serve Hamas’s military interests.”
It said he had confessed to a number of accusations, including diverting rubble from a UNDP project in the coastal strip to a Hamas operation to build a jetty for its naval force.
He is also alleged to have last year persuaded UNDP managers to focus home rebuilding efforts in areas where Hamas members lived, after pressure from the group.
More than 11,000 homes were completely destroyed in Gaza during Israel’s war with Hamas and other factions in the summer of 2014, according to the United Nations.
No figures were provided on how much aid Bossh allegedly diverted and the charge sheet provided by the Justice Ministry did not say he joined Hamas.
Hamas labeled the allegations “incorrect and baseless.”
In a statement it said the charges were part of a wider Israeli effort “to tighten the siege of the Gaza Strip by prosecuting international relief organizations.”
Since 2008, Israel has fought three wars in Gaza with Hamas, which is branded a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union.
Israel has long alleged that aid has been diverted to Hamas, claims rejected by NGOs and the United Nations.
Aid workers privately admit to pressure from Hamas.
But they maintain the materials and goods taken into Gaza are subject to some of the strictest monitoring in the world and accuse Israel of using concerns around Hamas as an excuse to restrict import of basic goods into the enclave.
“This is not an isolated case, but rather a troubling trend of the systematic exploitation by Hamas terrorists of UN organizations,” Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said in a separate statement.
— Ambassador Danon (@dannydanon) August 9, 2016
It comes days after the Gaza head of US-based NGO World Vision was charged with passing millions of dollars of international aid money to Hamas.
According to the Shin Bet security service, Muhammad Halabi diverted $7.2 million (6.5 million euros) each year since 2010 to Hamas and its military wing, though his charge sheet does not specify an amount.
Halabi is also accused of recruiting an individual from Save the Children, another international NGO, to Hamas.
Eitan Dangot, former head of the department of the Defense Ministry in charge of the Palestinian territories, said Tuesday it was likely other aid agencies were similarly involved with Hamas.
“If we published two, just think how many there are besides. And there are for sure,” he told a news conference.
World Vision International on Tuesday questioned the allegations, suggesting the numbers may have been exaggerated.
Its president, Kevin Jenkins, said in a statement the organization was conducting an investigation into the allegations but had “not seen any of the evidence.”
“World Vision’s cumulative operating budget in Gaza for the past 10 years was approximately $22.5 million, which makes the alleged amount of up to $50 million being diverted hard to reconcile,” the statement read.
More than two thirds of the population of the Gaza Strip, which Israel has blockaded for a decade, are reliant on some form of aid, according to the United Nations.