Israeli court sentenced former Gaza head of aid agency

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BEERSHEBA: An Israeli court on Tuesday sentenced the former Gaza head of a major US-based aid agency to 12 years in prison for “funnelling millions of dollars to the Hamas group”.

The Beersheba district court in southern Israel issued a sentence of “12 years’ prison time, less the detention” already served for World Vision’s Mohammed al-Halabi.

The court had ruled in June that Halabi was guilty of siphoning off millions of dollars and tonnes of steel to Hamas, which controls the Palestinian enclave.

Halabi, who was arrested in June 2016 and indicted in August that year, has denied any irregularities throughout his past six years in detention.

His lawyer reiterated his claim to innocence following Tuesday’s sentencing.

“He says that he’s innocent, he did nothing and there is no evidence,” Maher Hanna said. “On the contrary, he proved in the court above any reasonable doubt that he made sure that no money will be (given) directly to Hamas.”

According to Hanna, if Halabi had admitted to wrongdoings, he would have been released. “But he insisted that truth also has value. And for his personal values and for the international humanitarian work values, he insisted on the truth, and he cannot admit a thing that he did not do,” the lawyer said.

Hanna said they would appeal the verdict to the supreme court. The Israeli prosecution said it was also considering an appeal.

Halabi had been convicted of membership in Hamas and of financing terrorist activities, of having “transmitted information to the enemy” as well as the possession of a weapon. Much of the evidence against him was kept secret, with Israel citing “security concerns”, prompting his legal team to question the verdict’s legitimacy.

The 12-year sentence was also meant to deter Gazans working in international aid groups from aiding Hamas, according to the court.

In Gaza, Halabi’s mother described the anguish of following what she called an unjust trial. “I felt like I was having a nervous breakdown, and I was screaming,” Amal al-Halabi said.

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