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.


Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces new threat from former allies

Updated 1 min 10 sec ago
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Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces new threat from former allies

  • Former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu and ex-economy minister Ali Babacan have both made statements this month criticizing Turkey’s current trajectory
  • Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has downplayed the threat
ANKARA: Following losses in key cities this year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan now risks losing more voters as former allies stick their head above the parapet and appear to be on the verge of creating new parties.
Former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu and ex-economy minister Ali Babacan have both made statements this month criticizing Turkey’s current trajectory under Erdogan.
Rumors have swirled in Ankara for months that Babacan and Davutoglu may establish their own political parties to challenge the Islamic-rooted AKP that has dominated Turkish politics this century.
On July 8, Babacan, who is credited with overseeing Turkey’s economic boom during the AKP’s first decade in power, dealt the first blow when he resigned from the party.
He claimed Turkey needed a “new vision” and cited “deep differences” over policy, hinting a new party — or “new effort” — was “inevitable.”
With double-digit inflation, slower growth and a weakened lira, many hope Babacan will be the answer to Turkey’s economic woes and an alternative to Erdogan.
Ten days after Babacan, Davutoglu gave an interview broadcast live online in which he appeared to suggest he would be ready to set up a new party.
Erdogan has downplayed the threat but also warned Babacan against splitting the “ummah” — using the Arabic word for the Muslim community.
Experts say the president will not quietly accept these challenges.
“Erdogan is likely to combat any threat he sees to his personalized rule,” said Lisel Hintz, assistant professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University.
She pointed to the jailing of Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtas who had vehemently opposed Erdogan, and the ongoing trials of civil society leaders and AKP opponents.
Turkey has been to the polls eight times in just five years, but now any new party will have potentially until the next elections in 2023 to create momentum and attract voters.
When he announced he was standing down as prime minister in 2016 after two years, Davutoglu vowed never to criticize Erdogan in public.
That promise lay in tatters this week as he spoke online for three hours, saying he would remain within the AKP for now, but that: “If there is no other option, a (new) party must be set up.”
For now, it appears unlikely that Davutoglu will join forces with other splitters from the AKP, having been a fairly divisive figure himself in the past.
However, there have been reports that former president and co-founder of the AKP, Abdullah Gul, could act as an “honorary chairman” to a party led by Babacan.
It had been mooted that Gul would run against Erdogan in last year’s presidential elections, but he never came forward.
Erdogan criticized Babacan after his resignation, saying they disagreed over many issues, including interest rates, which the president controversially believes must be kept low to reduce inflation.
When asked if he was disappointed by Babacan, Davutoglu and Gul, Erdogan responded with evident exasperation: “For the love of Allah, should this question be asked? If one is not disappointed with them, who would one be disappointed with?”
But he said previous MPs had left the party and been largely forgotten.
The AKP came to power after the Turkish economy suffered a severe financial crisis in 2001, and needed an International Monetary Fund loan to emerge from the embers.
Eighteen years later, Turkey is again in an economic slump.
Inflation is at 15.7 percent; the rate of unemployment is 13 percent while the economy contracted by 2.6 percent in the first quarter of 2019.
According to Hintz, the success of any party launched by Babacan will “likely depend on the extent to which it offers concrete plans for tackling Turkey’s economic problems and social divides.”
She added that Babacan had a “shot at galvanizing Turkey’s center-right, particularly given widespread disillusion surrounding the personal enrichment of AKP leaders while Turkey’s economy slides further toward crisis.”
Erdogan and the AKP, set up in 2001, have won every general election since coming to power in 2002.
But after 25 years of the AKP and its predecessors running Istanbul, the country’s economic powerhouse is now in the hands of the opposition, despite a controversial push by the ruling party to order a re-run of the vote.
Erdogan still commands widespread loyalty, particularly in the provinces, said Emre Erdogan, professor of political science at Istanbul Bilgi University, and no relation to the president.
But he said any new challenger could be “destructive” to Erdogan’s chances at the next election, given that presidential candidates must win over 50 percent of the vote.