Israel rejects UN appeal to release Gaza employee

United Nations: Israel has rejected a UN request to release a United Nations staffer charged with aiding Hamas, on the grounds that he enjoys diplomatic immunity.

Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon yesterday said the UN office of legal affairs had issued a formal letter requesting the release of Waheed Borsh, who worked for the UN Development Program (UNDP).

In early August, an Israeli court charged the 38-year-old Palestinian engineer with diverting 300 tons of rubble from a UNDP project in Gaza to build a jetty for Hamas.

“We do not grant immunity to terrorists trying to harm our citizens,” Danon said in response to the letter.

“Israel operates according to the law, and we continue to do so in this case as well,” he said in a statement from the Israeli mission to the United Nations.

The office of legal affairs argued that Borsh, as a UN employee, enjoys immunity from arrest and from legal process, and requested that UN officials be allowed to visit him in jail.

After reviewing the charge sheet, the UNDP challenged Israel’s allegations and said Saturday that Borsh diverted the rubble under instructions from the Palestinian Authority.

Israel has long alleged that aid has been diverted to Hamas — the Islamist group that has controlled Gaza since 2007 — claims rejected by non-governmental organisations and the United Nations.

Danon said the UN should carry out a comprehensive review of its aid programs in Gaza, to ensure that funding and employees “fulfill the purpose of aiding the residents of Gaza and not fund terror activities.”

More than two-thirds of the population of the Gaza Strip, which Israel has blockaded for a decade, are reliant on some form of aid, according to the United Nations.