JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's Shin Bet security agency said Tuesday that it had arrested a Palestinian employee of a humanitarian program run by the Turkish government on suspicion of diverting funds to militants.
The Shin Bet said its interrogation of Muhammad Murtaja, the coordinator of the Gaza branch of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency, revealed how he had duped the organization by shifting funds to the military wing of the Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza.
It said Murtaja's activities included military training, manufacturing weapons and digging tunnels into Israel. The Shin Bet said one of Murtaja's schemes was to provide his superiors with a list of impoverished residents in the Gaza Strip who were candidates to receive financial aid. In practice, these lists were provided by Hamas and were actually militants, it said.
Turkish officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum dismissed the Israeli claims as "lies and fabrications" aimed at harming charity work in Gaza.
"This is a clear frightening of the donor countries and international organizations to end their work in Gaza so the suffering will increase and the siege will tighten," he said. He called on international organizations to "resist the pressure and keep up their work in Gaza."
It's not the first time Israel has accused local employees of international aid groups of abusing their positions to help militants in Gaza. It previously charged the Gaza manager of the World Vision charity with allegedly funneling millions to Hamas.
Israel also says the Turkish Islamic charity group IHH has been funneling funds to Hamas for years in the guise of humanitarian aid. The group helped organize the 2010 activist flotilla to Gaza, which was raided by Israeli forces in an operation that killed nine Turks.
Israel and Egypt imposed on a blockade on Gaza after Hamas seized power in 2007, and Israel has fought three wars with the militant group since then.