Israel tried to wiretap Hamas in botched mission, group says

Palestinians attend a rally marking the 31st anniversary of Hamas' founding, in Gaza City December 16, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 12 January 2019
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Israel tried to wiretap Hamas in botched mission, group says

  • Hamas thwarted an attempt to “plant spying devices in the Gaza Strip,” a Qassam spokesman, identified only as Abu Obeida, said in the statement
  • Israel’s military has not released details about the operation which went awry Nov. 11

GAZA CITY: Gaza’s ruling Hamas said Saturday that Israeli undercover forces had attempted to install equipment to monitor the group’s landline communications network during a botched mission in November.
The findings of a lengthy investigation were announced by the Hamas military wing, known as the Qassam Brigades, in a pre-recorded TV statement.
Hamas presented surveillance footage, as well as photos of drills, chain saws and two pistols with silencers, to back up its claims.
Hamas thwarted an attempt to “plant spying devices in the Gaza Strip,” a Qassam spokesman, identified only as Abu Obeida, said in the statement.
Israel’s military has not released details about the operation which went awry Nov. 11, leading to the heaviest round of cross-border fire, including Hamas rockets and Israeli airstrikes, since a 2014 war between the two sides.
The Hamas statement described an Israeli mission that allegedly spanned close to a year.
Abu Obeida said Israel brought equipment and vehicles into Gaza through a commercial crossing point between January and October. Fifteen members of the unit entered Gaza on a foggy night through the perimeter fence a few days before Nov. 11, the spokesman said.
A woman working with the Israeli unit entered Gaza several times, disguised as an employee of a humanitarian organization, the spokesman said. Members of the unit used forged IDs of local Gazans and the documents of a charity group, he added.
On Nov. 11, the unit was detected by Hamas fighters as it drove near the town of Abassan in southern Gaza. The discovery sparked a firefight, in which a member of the undercover unit and two Hamas gunmen, including a local commander, were killed. Five other militants were killed in airstrikes as Israeli aircrafts provided cover to airlift the force, including the dead officer.
In the televised statement, Hamas showed low-resolution surveillance camera footage purportedly showing two vehicles being used by the undercover squad. The footage showed some faces of the occupants of the vehicles and what Hamas said was the moment its gunmen searched the van.
According to the investigation, which confirmed previous reports, the firefight began when a local Hamas commander, Nour Baraka, ordered the detention of the occupants of the van who then shot him with silencer pistols. In the exchange of fire, a member of the Israeli force and another Hamas gunman were also killed before the van sped away.
Hamas said the slain Israeli commander of the group was an Arab with the rank of lieutenant colonel.


Russia invites Lebanon to Astana summit

Updated 3 min 53 sec ago
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Russia invites Lebanon to Astana summit

  • “The participation of Lebanon and Iraq is necessary when discussing the Syrian crisis”

BEIRUT: The Russian president’s special envoy to Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, has invited Lebanon to participate in the Astana conference as an observer. 

“Lebanon has decided to send a delegate to participate in this conference at the end of July and the beginning of … August,” Lavrentiev said after meeting Lebanese officials. “The participation of Lebanon and Iraq is necessary when discussing the Syrian crisis.”

Lavrentiev spoke to Lebanese President Michel Aoun about Moscow’s efforts to achieve stability in the Middle East, and said Russia “will do more to address the situation in Syria” in coordination with the UN secretary-general’s special envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen.

“We need to create the right conditions for the return of (Syrian) refugees,” said Lavrentiev. “It is necessary that refugees return under appropriate conditions and not to destroyed areas.”

Aoun told Lavrentiev: “Lebanon is interested in participating in the Astana conference because it facilitates efforts to find a political solution that will contribute to the return of refugees to their country.” 

Aoun said: “Participation in the Astana conference does not negate Lebanon’s right to discuss with the Syrian state arrangements for the return of refugees to their homeland. We consider Russian support for this return an important factor awaiting the participants in the Astana negotiating process to reach a final solution to the Syrian crisis.”

Lavrentiev said after meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri: “Eight years since the start of the Syrian crisis, it is time to allow for a political solution to this crisis, and we agreed with the Lebanese side to further coordinate with partners, especially European countries, in order to convince them to keep up with the return of refugees.”

There have been systematic campaigns in Lebanon, including by the Labor Ministry and municipalities, against employing Syrian workers. In addition, dozens of shops operated by Syrians without permits are closed every day. 

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said two weeks ago: “We will not accept that the Lebanese remain without work while Syrian refugees work illegally.”

He added: “Municipalities should not allow Syrians to work except in the sectors of agriculture, cleaning and construction, and prevent overcrowding.”

Bassil said: “Mayors must revoke licenses and prevent the opening of shops that are not legally entitled to Syrian workers.”

The Interior Ministry “is not entitled to intervene against a mayor who is enforcing the law,” he added. “Syria is a vast country and Lebanon cannot handle this number of refugees.”

After a meeting between Lavrentiev and Bassil, the Lebanese Foreign Ministry said the discussion focused on “the need to form a tripartite Russian-Lebanese-Syrian committee that facilitates the return of the refugees.”