UNITED NATIONS - A United Nations agency transferred thousands of dollars to a Palestinian Arab charity affiliated with terrorism long after Israel warned of the terror connection, though the U.N. publicly claimed payments to the organization had stopped.
The blunder points to trouble inside the U.N. Development Program, a huge operation headed by Mark Maloch Brown, who has recently been appointed Secretary-General Annan's chief of staff, largely for his organizational skills and his ability to handle the press. The U.N. plans to launch an internal probe as a result of the revelations uncovered by The New York Sun.
According to a UNDP letter that was seen by the Sun, the agency transferred the sum of $6,000 to an account in the Jenin branch of Cairo Amman Bank in September 11, 2003. The account belongs to the Jenin Zaka, or charity committee.
A subsequent letter from UNDP, dated October 3, 2003, written in Arabic and addressed to the head of the Jenin organization, actually states that the transfer was a mistake and demands a return of the funds. "It was transferred to your account by mistake," the letter states, adding that the money "was intended for the Tul Karem Charity Committee."
Both committees were identified by the Israeli Defense Force as part of a charity network affiliated with Hamas, the terror organization that has boycotted the recent election in the Palestinian Arab areas. The head of the Jenin committee, Ahmed Salaatnah, spent time in Israeli jails between 1993 and 1995 for terrorist activities in the Izz a Din al Kassem, the operational military branch of Hamas responsible for a chain of suicide bombings.
The money transfers in the fall of 2003 are interesting because it was made clear to the head of the UNDP office in Jerusalem, Timothy Rothermel, by the IDF four months earlier that the charity organizations were fronts for Hamas.
In a June 25, 2003, letter to the Israeli authorities Mr. Rothermel acknowledged that he has "taken note" of Israeli concerns about the Hamas af filiation, but claims that money transfers to them would stop only once the "deteriorating humanitarian status" of the population ended.
Dore Gold, the former Israeli ambassador to the U.N., exposed the UNDP support for the two charity committees in a recent op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal. In a subsequent letter to the editor of the Journal, U.N. undersecretary-general for communication, Shashi Tharoor, claimed that after the June 25 letter, which acknowledged the Israeli complaints, "no further payments were made by the U.N." to the Hamas affiliates.
The documents, however, clearly show that at least one transfer of thousands of dollars was made in September. Mr. Tharoor told the Sun that he relied on information from UNDP. A UNDP spokesman, William Orme, said yesterday that his agency is checking into the new facts, and that if the documents discovered by the Sun are accurate, an internal investigation will be launched immediately. "We were told no payments were made following June 2003," he said. Mr. Maloch Brown was not available for comment.
The gentle request to return the money, which was made by the UNDP's Mr. Rothermel to the formerly jailed terrorist Mr. Salaatnah, makes little difference, since according to Israeli intelligence sources both the Jenin and the Tul Karem committees are part of the Hamas civil infrastructure in the territories.
That infrastructure, according to an Israeli intelligence document seen by the Sun, has turned the terror organization into the most powerful political force there. The Jenin charity and its sister organization in Tul Karem, which was founded in 1981, are part of the Hamas vision of creating an Islamic state as an alternative to the secular leadership of Fatah, now headed by the recently-elected Mahmoud Abbas.
Both the Tul Karem and the Jenin committees were outlawed by Israel in 2002 for their terrorist connections. Unlike the U.N., which makes a distinction between the terrorist and civilian parts of Hamas, American and European authorities do not.
Israeli soldiers discovered documents in the office of the Tul Karem committee that show direct connection to the now-infamous Holy Land Foundation, the American-based Hamas charity that was shut down by the Bush administration in December 2001, in a post-September 11 attempt to shut down terror-funding charities.