Revealed: terror training base Israel claims was built by British aid
Published by The Mail on Sunday (8th August, 2016)
A training base built by an Islamist terrorist group behind suicide bombings and mass shootings was allegedly funded by British aid.
The compound in the north of the Gaza Strip is operated by the military wing of Hamas. It is fitted with sophisticated communications equipment for surveillance and is an entry point to secret tunnels used to smuggle weapons and launch attacks on Israel.
There are also buildings used to train gunmen with the Qassam Brigades, which claims to have 10,000 members in Gaza and has been behind rocket attacks on Israel, the kidnap of Israeli soldiers and a series of bloody attacks.
Israel says money from British taxpayers was funnelled to Hamas to build the base by a senior Palestinian official with World Vision, a major Christian charity that has been handed millions of pounds by the UK’s Department for International Development (Dfid).
Shin Bet, Israel’s intelligence agency, has arrested the official, Mohammad el Halabi, on charges of infiltrating World Vision and aiding terrorists. Israel believe he passed £33 million intended to relive poverty to Hamas to pay its salaries and train its troops.
Hamas, which seeks the elimination of Israel, is identified as a proscribed terrorist organisation by Britain, the EU and the US. It has controlled Gaza since 2007.
Halabi, World Vision’s local director of operations, was arrested in June at the Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza. He was held for 50 days before being charged last week. Shin Bet claims he is a Hamas operative handpicked 11 years ago to infiltrate the global charity.
They say for the past six years Halabi has transferred more than half its annual budget for Gaza to the terror group. This included £60,000 ‘received from the United Kingdom’ for construction of the terrorist compound, codenamed ‘Palestine’.
British aid money is also alleged to have paid the salaries of Hamas members building the 1,800ft-long base.
Hamas operates about 70 compounds across Gaza but this is one of the biggest and most sophisticated. It includes observation points facing north towards Israel and a training zone with buildings for close-quarters training.
Last June Israel launched air strikes to destroy the base, but they failed and it remains active.
A military source said: ‘This is not a typical compound. It is where they do military exercises and build up forces.’
The allegations are embarrassing for World Vision, which has a £2.3 billion annual budget and includes Bill Clinton, Scarlett Johansson and Myleene Klass among its celebrity supporters.
The charity said in statement: ‘World Vision subscribes to the humanitarian principles of impartiality and neutrality and therefore rejects any involvement in any political, military or terrorist activities. We will carefully review any evidence presented to us.’
Hamas also denied what it called ‘false accusations’, insisting it had ‘no relationship’ with Halabi.
There have long been claims in Israel that Western aid is abused in Gaza and the West Bank. Australia suspended funding for World Vision projects in the Palestinian territories after what it called ‘deeply troubling’ allegations.
Britain does not back World Vision work in Gaza, although Dfid gave the group £22,642,147 under its current round of Programme Partnership Arrangements. It also receives substantial EU monies.
Ian Austin, Labour MP for Dudley North, said: ‘Dfid needs to tell us whether any money given to support people in Gaza has been diverted to Hamas.’
He is one of an all-party group of MPs trying to obtain Dfid’s Memorandum of Understanding over £25 million aid handed annually to the Palestinian Authority.
This follows Mail on Sunday revelations earlier this year that the Authority was sending funds to hundreds of jailed terrorists, including suicide bombers and child killers.
It was one of many aid scandals uncovered by this newspaper during our ‘End The £12bn Foreign Aid Madness’ campaign.
A Dfid spokesman said: ‘We do not provide any funding to World Vision UK for its work in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including in Gaza.’