World, Middle East

Israel levels unfounded claims at Gazan TIKA employee

Jewish state makes unsubstantiated claims that Palestinian employee of Turkish aid agency TIKA aided Hamas

21.03.2017
Israel levels unfounded claims at Gazan TIKA employee

By Kaamil Ahmed

JERUSALEM

Israel's intelligence services claimed Tuesday that the Gazan representative of a Turkish aid agency arrested last month had been involved in producing and storing weapons for Hamas' armed wing.

Muhammad Murtaja was arrested at the Erez checkpoint between Gaza and Israel while traveling to Turkey to receive professional training from his employers, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA).

Details of his arrest had not been disclosed due to a gag order issued by the Israeli authorities, but Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security agency alleged in a Tuesday statement that Murtaja had been planning to gather information for Hamas about rocket-building.

"The investigation showed that Murtaja deceived TIKA by misusing the organization’s resources and funds, which were intended for substantial humanitarian projects in the Gaza Strip, by diverting them to Hamas’ military wing," Shin Bet asserted.

The agency also accused Murtaja of involvement in other elements of Hamas military activity, including the storage of weapons in his home and the use of funds -- intended for impoverished Gazans -- to pay Hamas fighters.

Shin Bet did not, however, provide any explanation as to how Murtaja had managed to divert TIKA funds to Hamas’ military wing.

The agency further accused Turkey’s Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) of directly providing Hamas with funds to be used for military purposes.

Despite having obtained permission to enter Israel, Murtaja was taken into custody on Feb. 12 at Israel’s Erez border crossing.

Since his arrest, the Turkish Foreign Ministry and Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv have maintained diplomatic efforts with a view to securing his release.

Married with four children, Murtaja has worked for TIKA in Gaza since 2012.

Murtaja’s case is not the first time for Israel to apply pressure on international aid organizations operating in the Gaza Strip on the grounds they are “aiding and abetting Hamas”.

In the past, Israeli rights NGO B’tselem has faced accusations of “treason” for criticizing Israeli rights violations, while activists calling for a boycott of products made on illegal Israeli settlements were recently barred from entering the country.

Last year, Israel arrested Muhammad al-Halabi, the Gazan head of international charity World Vision, on charges similar to those faced by Murtaja.

But an Australian government investigation later found that the funds had not been diverted as had been claimed by Israel, Australia's ABC News reported Tuesday.

The ABC News report quoted World Vision's top lawyer, Tim Costello, as saying that Israel had not presented any evidence of its claims and that its own internal investigations, too, had failed to reveal any proof of the misuse of funding.

Since 2007, the Gaza Strip has groaned under a crippling Israeli/Egyptian blockade that has deprived its inhabitants of basic commodities, including food, fuel, medicine and building supplies.

According to a 2015 World Bank report, the decade-long blockade has cut Gaza’s gross domestic product in half and led to one of the highest unemployment rates in the world.

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has described the blockade -- first imposed after Hamas swept 2006 Palestinian legislative polls -- as "collective punishment".

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