June verdict set for Gaza aid worker accused by Israel of Hamas ties
JERUSALEM, May 10 (Reuters) - Israel's top court called on Tuesday for the conclusion of a long-running trial of a Palestinian aid worker accused of funneling tens of millions of dollars in relief funds to the Islamic militant group Hamas, charges he has consistently denied.
Mohammad El Halabi, head of Gaza operations for U.S.-based Christian relief group World Vision, was arrested while entering Israel in June 2016. Israeli officials said his indictment was based in part on a closed-door confession he gave in custody.
Brought before a lower Israeli court, Halabi has maintained his innocence. His lawyers say they have not had access to all evidence against him. They say he has refused several plea deal offers. The Justice Ministry declined comment.
"I think we all understand this case has to end," said Ofer Grosskopf, the Supreme Court justice hearing a motion on El Halabi's detention.
Prompted by Grosskopf, the lower court said it would deliver a verdict on June 16, according to a ruling seen by Reuters.
El Halabi's unusually long trial has drawn criticism from rights groups. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has raised concerns about his case, including "treatment that may amount to torture".
Israel accused El Halabi of siphoning off about 60 percent of World Vision's Gaza funding - up to $50 million - to pay Hamas fighters, buy arms, and help building fortifications.
World Vision, which focuses on helping children, said an independent forensic audit found no evidence of wrongdoing or of funds missing.
The organization said that in the 10-year period El Halabi was employed, it budgeted around $22.5 million for operations in Gaza, making the amount El Halabi allegedly diverted "hard to reconcile".
"This process has had a dramatic and negative effect on children and their families in Gaza, including Mohammad's own family," said Sharon Marshall, a World Vision spokesperson.
In a statement to Reuters, El Halabi called the charges against him "a set of lies that were invented to target the humanitarian organizations and work in Gaza".
"I hope the trial will end with my total acquittal, because I am innocent," he said.
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