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Israel’s jailing of aid worker slammed

Reverend Tim Costello has slammed an Israeli court sentencing of a Palestinian World Vision Australia worker to 12 years in jail for allegedly funnelling taxpayer money to a militant group.

Mohamed el-Halabi, director of international Christian charity World Vision Australia in Gaza, was arrested in 2016 by Israeli authorities and accused of diverting tens of millions of Australian taxpayer dollars to Islamist militant group Hamas.

Mr Costello, World Vision Australia’s former CEO, described the verdict on Tuesday as “a shocking injustice”.

“This is a complete travesty of justice constructed by Israel for ideological reasons to frame an innocent man,” he told AAP.

“No money at all went missing”.

Independent audits by the Australian government and charity group World Vision Australia conducted by Deloitte in 2017 found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Australia was the biggest single donor to World Vision’s humanitarian work in the blockaded enclave of Gaza ruled by Hamas.

Mr Costello urged the Australian government to speak up on the verdict since it implied taxpayer money had been misused without solid evidence provided.

“There is a slur on the Australian government given the false claims of the Israeli government that he stole Australian taxpayers’ money and the false conviction,” he said.

“They are a slur on Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Australia’s reputation”.

“It’s a profound injustice … and it should be called out”.

AAP has contacted DFAT for comment.

In June, the district court in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba said el-Halabi was guilty of several charges, including membership in a terror organisation, providing information to a terror group, taking part in militant exercises and carrying a weapon.

Hanna, his lawyer, said el-Halabi intended to appeal the verdict and the sentence to the Supreme Court. He said the defence team was granted “very limited access” to the evidence, the Associated Press reported.

“The court left no stone unturned in this case,” said prosecutor Moran Gez, who added that the prosecution had asked for a 16 to 21-year sentence.

The long-running, high-profile trial has strained relations between Israel and humanitarian organisations that provide aid to Palestinians.

In a statement, World Vision said the sentence stood in sharp contrast to the evidence and facts of the case.

“The arrest, six-year trial, unjust verdict and this sentence are emblematic of actions that hinder humanitarian work in Gaza and the West Bank,” the group said on Tuesday.

“It adds to the chilling impact on World Vision and other aid or development groups working to assist Palestinians”.

Israeli authorities have repeatedly said they have proof that Hamas had infiltrated the aid group and was diverting funds from needy Gazans.

Then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu trumpeted the charges in an online video shortly after el-Halabi’s arrest.

Critics allege Israel smears groups that provide aid or other support to Palestinians in order to shore up its nearly 55-year military occupation of lands the Palestinians want for a future state.

with AP

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