Israel arrests UN Gaza employee 'for aiding Hamas'

Jerusalem (AFP) - Israel said Tuesday it had arrested and charged a United Nations employee for allegedly aiding Islamist movement Hamas, in the second such case involving a humanitarian worker in a week.

Engineer Waheed Borsh, who has worked for the UN Development Programme (UNDP) since 2003, was arrested on July 16 and indicted in a civilian court in Israel on Tuesday, a government statement said.

Hamas, which has run the Gaza Strip since 2007, denied the allegations.

The statement said 38-year-old Borsh, from Jabaliya in northern Gaza, had been recruited by "a senior member of the Hamas terrorist organisation to redirect his work for UNDP to serve Hamas' military interests".

It said he had confessed to a number of charges, including helping to build a jetty in the northern Gaza Strip, with UNDP funding, that was later used by Hamas' naval forces.

In 2015 he allegedly persuaded managers to focus on rebuilding houses in areas where Hamas members lived, after the group put pressure on him.

No figures were provided on how much aid money he is alleged to have diverted.

Hamas said in a statement that the allegations were "incorrect and baseless".

It said they were part of a wider Israeli effort "to tighten the siege of the Gaza Strip by prosecuting international relief organisations."

The Israeli government said that Borsh admitted during the investigation that "other Palestinians who work for aid organisations are also working for Hamas".

- 'Systematic exploitation' -

"This is not an isolated case, but rather a troubling trend of the systematic exploitation by Hamas terrorists of UN organisations," the Israeli ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, said in a separate statement.

The formal charge sheet was not publicly available.

UNDP said that it would respond to the allegations soon.

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 internal security agency, Mohammed al-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 another international NGO, Save the Children, to Hamas.

World Vision International on Tuesday questioned the allegations, suggesting the numbers may have been exaggerated.

Its president Kevin Jenkins said in a statement the organisation was conducting an investigation into the allegations but "have not seen any of the evidence".

"World Vision's cumulative operating budget in Gaza for the past ten years was approximately $22.5 million, which makes the alleged amount of up to $50 million being diverted hard to reconcile," the statement read.

Since 2008, Israel has fought three wars in Gaza with Hamas, which is branded a terrorist organisation by Israel, the United States and the European Union.

More than three quarters of the population of the Strip, which Israel has blockaded for a decade, are reliant on some form of aid, according to the United Nations.

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