Germany’s interior ministry on Monday banned a Frankfurt-based organisation that it accuses of funnelling money to Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that controls Gaza.
German authorities raided 29 sites of the International Humanitarian Relief Organisation, which the interior ministry accuses of having collected and sent €6.6m to relief groups that are close to Hamas.
“Under the cover of humanitarian aid, the IHH has been supporting for a long time and with considerable financial resources so-called social groups which have to be seen as connected to Hamas,” Thomas de Maizière, Germany’s interior minister, said in a statement.
A separate, Turkish organisation with the acronym IHH hit the headlines at the end of May when it led an aid flotilla that aimed to break Israel’s sea blockade of Gaza. The mission ended in bloodshed when Israel’s soldiers raided the six-ship aid-flotilla, killing nine people and sparking an international outcry.
In Germany, the participation of several members of parliament from the leftwing party in the attempt to break the blockade had caused a stir. The German government has repeatedly criticised Hamas.
IHH Turkey and IHH Germany share the same roots, as they were founded as a single group in Freiburg, Germany, in 1992. But the group split in two five years later.
The interior ministry accused IHH of “cynical behaviour” by “exploiting credulous donors’ willingness to help by using money that was given for a good purpose for supporting what is in effect a terrorist organisation”.
The IHH could not be reached for comment on Monday, and its website seemed inaccessible.
Mr De Maizière said groups that directly or indirectly support the denial of Israel’s existence had forfeited the right to form an association in Germany.
Hamas, which seized control of Gaza three years ago, has repeatedly called for Israel’s destruction and is considered a terrorist group in Israel.
German authorities have been investigating the group, which collected the money in mosques throughout the country, for more than a year.
While the group is now banned in Germany, its personnel do not face criminal charges unless they continue IHH’s activities or regroup.
The German move won plaudits by the European Jewish Congress. In a statement, the Congress called on the European Union and other European governments to follow Germany’s example.