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.


US has ‘no plan’ as Syria pullout proceeds: ex-envoy

Updated 21 January 2019
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US has ‘no plan’ as Syria pullout proceeds: ex-envoy

  • Former envoy Brett McGurk says the absence of a plan is increasing the risk to US forces
  • Trump announced the US withdrawal because, he said, Daesh had been defeated

WASHINGTON: The United States has no plan for Syria as it proceeds with President Donald Trump’s order to pull American troops out of the country, a top official who quit in protest at the policy said on Sunday.
Brett McGurk, who was America’s envoy to the US-led global coalition against the Daesh group, said “there’s no plan for what’s coming next” and this is increasing the risk to US forces.
He spoke in an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation,” after a suicide bomber on Wednesday killed four Americans and 15 others in the northern Syrian town of Manbij. It was the deadliest attack to hit US troops since they deployed to Syria in 2014 to assist local forces against the Daesh group.
The bombing came after Trump’s announcement last month that he was ordering a full withdrawal of the 2,000 US troops from Syria, shocking allies and leading to the resignations of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis as well as McGurk.
Senior US officials have since given contradictory statements about US intentions, but the Pentagon said it had begun the withdrawal, although how long it would take remained uncertain.
“The president has made that clear — we are leaving. And that means our force should be really with one mission: to get out and get out safely,” McGurk told “Face the Nation.”
But he added: “Right now we do not have a plan. It increases a vulnerability of our force... It is increasing the risk to our people on the ground in Syria and will open up space for Daesh,” another acronym for IS.
Most importantly, said McGurk, the US cannot expect “a partner” such as NATO-ally Turkey to take the place of the United States.
“That is not realistic. And if our forces are under order to withdraw, as at the same time they are trying to find some formula for another coalition partner to come in, that is not workable. That is not a viable plan.”
Trump announced the US withdrawal because, he said, IS had been defeated — something McGurk and other experts dispute.
McGurk has previously warned that the US pullout would shore up Syria’s President Bashar Assad and lessen America’s leverage with Russia and Iran.