Sydney – Australia said on Friday it was suspending funding for relief group World Vision’s operations in the Palestinian Territories after allegations its Gaza representative funneled millions of dollars to Islamist militant group, Hamas.
Mohammad El Halabi, World Vision’s manager of operations in Gaza, was arrested by Israel on June 15 while crossing the border into the enclave, which is under the de facto rule of Hamas, a group on the Israeli and U.S. terrorism blacklists.
A senior Israeli security official on Thursday said Halabi, who has run the group’s Gaza operations since 2010, had been under extended surveillance and had confessed to siphoning off some $7.2 million a year to Hamas.
World Vision said it was shocked by the claims and a Hamas spokesman said the group had no connection with Halabi.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) called the allegations “deeply troubling” and said in a statement that it was “urgently seeking more information from World Vision and the Israeli authorities.”
“We are suspending the provision of further funding to World Vision for programs in the Palestinian Territories until the investigation is complete,” it said.
Australia has paid World Vision approximately A$5.7 million ($4.35 million) over the past three financial years for the provision of aid in the Palestinian Territories, a DFAT spokesman said.