The World Vision children's charity said Wednesday it has suspended its operations in Gaza, as it investigates Israeli allegations that one of its top area officials diverted tens of millions of dollars to Islamic militants.
World Vision says it is "shocked" at charges by Israeli officials that its Gaza manager, Mohammad el-Halabi, sent donations for supporting injured children to the Muslim extremist group Hamas instead. After announcing earlier this week it is examining all evidence behind the charges, the charity said Wednesday it will suspend all operations in Gaza as it conducts a "full review, including an external, independent forensic audit."
World Vision Vice President of Advocacy Robert Zachritz said his group has "stringent financial controls" that have been audited by independent reviewers and government officials and also conducts "extensive background checks" on staff.
"If our systems have weaknesses, World Vision is committed to improving them, and rebuilding the trust we have worked so hard to grow in our over 40 years of work in Gaza, so that we can return to the vital work that needs to be done to improve the lives of children and their families," he said.
Israel's Shin Bet security agency said el-Halabi siphoned about $7.2 million a year to Hamas over five years. Shin Bet said the sum equals roughly 60 percent of World Vision's total Gaza budget, but the charity says it has spent just $22.5 million in Gaza over the past decade, making the claimed theft appear impossible.
World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization that operates in nearly 100 countries and employs 46,000 staff members around the world.
The charity says it has helped more than 92,000 children in Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza, nearly 40,000 of them in Gaza. The aid includes medical and other supplies, food, re-establishing agricultural livelihoods and meeting children's psychosocial needs.