Gaza Needs Aid, But Israel Says Some Has Reached Hamas Militants : Parallels An aid official in Gaza is accused of illegally diverting funds to the Islamic militant group, which runs the Gaza Strip. Aid groups fear new restrictions but Israel insists it wants aid to continue.
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Gaza Needs Aid, But Israel Says Some Has Reached Hamas Militants

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Gaza Needs Aid, But Israel Says Some Has Reached Hamas Militants

Gaza Needs Aid, But Israel Says Some Has Reached Hamas Militants

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Last month, Israel indicted a Palestinian worker who's with the aid group World Vision, accusing him of diverting money to Hamas. Hamas controls Gaza and is considered a terror organization by the United States and Israel. The court case could go on for months. But already the accusation seems to be affecting aid groups and the Gazans who need help. NPR's Nick Schifrin reports from Gaza City.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing in foreign language).

NICK SCHIFRIN, BYLINE: Down a sandy alleyway in a secluded courtyard, a group of children start singing. They stand in front of a door that's been locked for weeks. Inside is a clinic that treated their post-traumatic stress.

MUHAMMAD SULTAN: (Foreign language spoken).

SCHIFRIN: Muhammad Sultan (ph) heads the clinic that was funded by the charity World Vision. While it's investigating Israel's accusations about aid being diverted, the charity temporarily closed this clinic and all of its Gaza programs. Sultan talked to me through an interpreter about his work with the kids.

SULTAN: (Through interpreter) We're just trying to restore peace and tranquility inside their minds.

SCHIFRIN: The U.N. estimates 160,000 Gazan children need psychological aid.

Can you tell me your name please?

SAMAR ZAID: Samar Zaid.

SCHIFRIN: And how old are you?

SAMAR: (Foreign language spoken) Fifteen.

SCHIFRIN: Like most Gazan teenagers, Samar Zaid has survived three wars.

SAMAR: (Through interpreter) Fear was all about. Fear - fear was almost there everywhere.

SCHIFRIN: Did that fear go away once you started this program?

SAMAR: (Through interpreter) This was the only resort for us to have fun and to play and to meet our friends. Now we feel really down. We still need the place.

SCHIFRIN: Israel accuses World Vision local Gaza director Mohammed El Halabi of diverting millions of dollars to Hamas.

DORE GOLD: We believe that if you're providing aid to the Gaza Strip, you better know where the aid is going.

SCHIFRIN: Dore Gold is the director general of Israel's foreign ministry. He says Israel wants the aid to keep flowing but without money being diverted to Hamas rockets and tunnels into Israel.

GOLD: We have to structure a solution that allows for the recovery of Gaza without threatening the security of Israel.

SCHIFRIN: World Vision says the total amount El Halabi is accused of diverting is more than its entire Gaza budget for the last decade. But some donors have already frozen their funding to World Vision's Gaza programs. And the case, and a similar one against a U.N. Development Programme engineer, have concerned the wider aid community. U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories Robert Piper worries the cases could exacerbate a large aid funding shortage, especially if Israel increases already costly security checks on aid groups.

ROBERT PIPER: That's going to make it even more difficult to get aid to the people who need it.

SCHIFRIN: Delivering aid to Gaza was difficult even before the allegations because Hamas, the elected government, runs Gaza's most basic services.

KHALIL HALABI: The police - from Hamas. Municipality - from Hamas.

SCHIFRIN: Khalil Halabi is Mohammed El Halabi's father. He calls the accusations against his son false, but he himself was an aid worker for decades and says aid workers have to work with the Hamas government to get things done.

HALABI: I work with them daily to solve the problem, but this is different than military. Military, we could not talk with them.

SCHIFRIN: He's distinguishing between Hamas militants and Hamas bureaucrats. There are rules to keep aid away from Hamas' military wing. While the U.N. allows short-term emergency aid to be given to anyone, longer term and larger aid is more tightly controlled by the U.N. and Israel. The U.N.'s Piper urges Israel to avoid undercutting the aid agencies.

PIPER: We've got to expect Israel, while it continues a perfectly understandable campaign against Hamas, to make sure that in doing so that those agencies are not caught in the crossfire.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Singing in foreign language).

SCHIFRIN: Back outside the closed World Vision center, the girls sing follow your dreams no matter how far away they are. They say without the center's psychological support, many of their dreams become nightmares. Nick Schifrin, NPR News, Gaza City.

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