By JASON TRAHAN ( The Dallas Morning News 11/06/08

Defense attorneys representing five charity workers accused of using the formerly Richardson-based Holy Land Foundation to funnel millions of dollars to Hamas rested their case on a high note Thursday.

The defense finished their week-long case Thursday with their fifth and most powerful witness, Edward Abington, the former United States consul general in Israel who also later served as the State Department’s No. 2 intelligence officer.

He told jurors that while serving as chief U.S. envoy to the Palestinian Authority from 1993 to 1997, he was never told in any of his daily government briefings that the terrorist group Hamas controlled a series of Palestinian charity groups.

The government contends those Palestinian charity groups, called zakat committees, were staffed by Hamas militants when Holy Land sent them more than $12 million after 1995, the year the U.S. designated Hamas as a terrorist organization.

U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis on Friday will confer with prosecutors and defense attorneys on the jury’s charge, or legal instructions. Closing arguments will likely begin Monday.

Much of the money that the government contends went to Hamas was raised at radical Islamist and anti-Semitic fundraisers in America in the late 80s and early 90s. Prosecutors say it was targeted to families of suicide bombers and Hamas prisoners.

Defense attorneys say Holy Land – once the largest Muslim charity in the country – was legitimate and provided aid to Palestinian families living under oppressive Israeli occupation.

Mr. Abington lent credibility to those arguments Thursday, telling jurors that Holy Land had a good reputation in the region as efficient aid suppliers.

He testified that, as the de facto ambassador to the Palestinian territories, it was his job to know who controlled what in the region. He said he was aware of where Hamas exerted influence in the area because he had to avoid interacting with the terrorist group’s representatives according to U.S. policy.

He said that far from being terrorist financial fronts, the zakat committees were staffed by pious Muslims who used Holy Land’s money and other contributions to provide Palestinians much-needed aid. Some of the committees even received funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

On cross examination, prosecutor Jim Jacks questioned Mr. Abington on his objectivity, given that he became a paid lobbyist for the Palestinian Authority immediately after leaving his U.S. government service.

Mr. Jacks also got Mr. Abington to admit that he had little if any knowledge of which individuals worked on the zakat committees when he was serving in the region. When Mr. Jacks showed him examples of evidence of Hamas members serving on the committees, Mr. Abington said that there is a difference between Hamas being involved in the group’s activities and outright controlling them.