UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A British non-governmental organization is threatening legal action against the Israeli government over its accusation that the organization is linked to the militant group Hamas — while denying that the Hamas leader called the NGO to congratulate it.
The Palestinian Return Center this week was granted consultative status at the United Nations, prompting Israel's U.N. mission to protest that the organization is associated with Hamas and "promotes anti-Israel propaganda."
The organization said the claim that it is affiliated with Hamas is unfounded. The group said it defends the right of return for Palestinian refugees and has existed for almost two decades.
On Tuesday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh's office announced that Haniyeh had called the NGO's leader, Majed al-Zeer, and congratulated him on its new U.N. status.
But a spokesman for the Palestinian Return Center, Sameh Habeeb, said al-Zeer had not received a call from Haniyeh. Later on Tuesday, a Haniyeh spokesman sent a message to reporters asking them "not to deal" with the earlier announcement about the phone call.
Still, the announcement remained on Hamas' website.
The U.S. and the European Union consider Hamas a terror group.
A 19-country U.N. committee on Monday voted on the Palestinian Return Center, with 12 countries approving, including Sudan, Venezuela, Iran, China and Cuba. The United States joined Israel and Uruguay voting against the organization, while Russia, India and Greece abstained.
Having consultative status means an NGO can attend certain U.N. meetings.
"This is the peak season for the U.N.'s theater of the absurd," Israel's ambassador to the U.N., Ron Prosor, said in a statement. The Israeli mission did not comment Tuesday on the threat of legal action.
Akram reported from the Gaza Strip. Associated Press writers Tia Goldenberg in Jerusalem and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed.