Israel lawmakers outraged over claim police used NSO spyware

Israeli lawmakers on Tuesday called for a parliamentary inquiry into the police’s alleged use of sophisticated spyware on Israeli citizens, including protesters opposed to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (AP)
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Updated 18 January 2022

Israel lawmakers outraged over claim police used NSO spyware

  • Israeli police denied the allegations, saying they operate according to the law
  • NSO Group said it does not identify its clients

JERUSALEM: Israeli lawmakers on Tuesday called for a parliamentary inquiry into the police’s alleged use of sophisticated spyware on Israeli citizens, including protesters opposed to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, following a newspaper report on the surveillance.
Hebrew-language business newspaper Calcalist reported that in 2020, police used the NSO spyware Pegasus to surveil leaders of protests against Netanyahu, who was then prime minister. It said police also hacked the phones of two sitting mayors suspected of corruption and numerous other Israeli citizens, all without a court order or a judge’s oversight.
The Israeli police denied the allegations, saying they operate according to the law, and the NSO Group said it does not identify its clients.
Sophisticated spyware made by the Israeli company has been linked to eavesdropping on human rights activists, journalists and politicians. The US has barred the group from American technology, saying its products have been used by repressive regimes.
The company says its products are intended to be used against criminals and terrorists, and that it does not control how its clients use the software. Israel, which regulates the company, has not said whether its own security forces use the spyware.
The report — which cited no current or formal officials from the government, police or NSO corroborating the paper’s claims — referred to eight alleged examples of the police’s secretive signal intelligence unit employing Pegasus to surveil Israeli citizens, including hacking phones of a murder suspect and opponents of the Jerusalem Pride Parade. The report did not name any of the people whose phones were allegedly hacked by the police.
“In all the cases mentioned in the article, and in other instances, use of Pegasus was made at the sole discretion of senior police officers,” the report said. “The significance is that with Pegasus, the police can effectively hack without asking a court, without a search or entry warrant, without oversight, to all cell phones.”
The report sparked an outcry across Israel’s political spectrum, briefly uniting everyone from Jewish ultra-nationalists to Arab opposition lawmakers in shared outrage.
Cabinet Minister Karine Elharrar told Israeli Army Radio that such surveillance “was something that a democratic country cannot allow.”
Opposition lawmaker Yuval Steinitz said that surveillance of citizens by law enforcement without judicial oversight is improper and that if the claims are correct, it should be investigated.
Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, whose department oversees the police, tweeted that he would verify that police received explicit authorization from a judge to use the spyware.
The ultra-Orthodox Shas party called on the Knesset speaker to launch a parliamentary investigation. Merav Ben Ari, an Israeli lawmaker who heads the Knesset’s internal security committee, said the panel would hold a hearing into the report’s claims.
Israeli police issued a statement after the report’s publication, saying that “there’s no truth to the claims raised in the article” and that “all police operations in this field are in accordance with the law, in line with court orders and meticulous protocols.”
Amir Ohana, who was public security minister during the protests, said he had no knowledge of the reported surveillance.
The Black Flags protest movement, whose leaders were allegedly surveilled during weekly demonstrations in recent years calling on Netanyahu to resign, called on the police to release the names of the people whose phones were hacked. Spokesman Roee Neuman said the protest leaders only learned of the digital surveillance following the publication of the report.
Pegasus software surreptitiously grants full access to a person’s cellphone, including real-time communications.
Tuesday’s report was the latest blow for the company, which has faced growing scrutiny and criticism for its software’s use by repressive governments.
NSO’s software has repeatedly been blamed for cellphone surveillance of activists, dissidents and journalists. Last month, the Internet watchdog Citizen Lab said dozens of journalists and human rights defenders in El Salvador had their cellphones repeatedly hacked with sophisticated spyware over the past year and a half.
In November, Citizen Lab said it had identified Pegasus software on the phones of six Palestinian human rights activists affiliated with groups that Israel has controversially claimed are involved in terrorism.
Citizen Lab has been identifying Pegasus victims since 2015, when abuses of the spyware against journalists and human rights activists were discovered. Dozens of cases have since been uncovered, including of a dozen US State Department employees in Uganda, British lawyers and a Polish senator who led the opposition’s 2019 parliamentary campaign.
The NSO Group said that it could neither confirm nor deny any specific clients, adding that “the company does not operate the system once sold to its governmental customers and it is not involved in any way in the system’s operation.”
“NSO sells its products under license and regulation to intelligence and law enforcement agencies to prevent terror and crime under court orders and the local laws of their countries,” the company said.


Turkey re-evaluating death penalty after Erdogan’s wildfires comment — minister

Updated 4 sec ago

Turkey re-evaluating death penalty after Erdogan’s wildfires comment — minister

ISTANBUL: Turkey will reconsider a 2004 decision to abolish capital punishment, the justice minister said on Saturday, after President Tayyip Erdogan raised the death penalty in connection with the cause of this week’s wildfires.
Capital punishment was struck from the constitution in the early years of Erdogan’s rule. But after a suspected deliberate blaze destroyed 4,500 hectares (11,119 acres) of Aegean coastal forest, Erdogan said tougher justice was needed.
Authorities have said that a suspect detained in connection with the fire has admitted to causing it. The blaze, in woodland near the resort of Marmaris, has been contained, authorities said on Saturday.
After visiting the scene on Friday, Erdogan said the punishment for burning forests should be “intimidating, and if that’s a death sentence, it’s a death sentence.”
Speaking to reporters in the eastern town of Agri on Saturday, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said the president’s comments “are instructions to us.”
“We have started working on it as the ministry,” Bozdag said, adding that the current punishment for starting wildfires was 10 years in prison, rising to a possible life sentence if part of organized crime.
The country’s first big blaze of the summer began on Tuesday and conjured memories of last year’s fires which ravaged 140,000 hectares of countryside, the worst on record.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Thursday that the detained suspect had admitted to burning down the forest out of frustration due to family issues.
Local officials told Reuters in recent days that authorities lacked the necessary equipment and personnel for another summer of fires.
On Friday, Forestry Minister Vahit Kirisci said 88 percent of forest fires in Turkey were started by people.

Groups in Spain and Morocco push for border deaths inquiry

Updated 25 June 2022

Groups in Spain and Morocco push for border deaths inquiry

  • The Moroccan Human Rights Association reported 27 dead but the figure could not immediately be confirmed
  • APDHA, a human rights group based in Andalusia, and a joint statement released by five rights organizations in Morocco also called for inquiries

MADRID: Human rights organizations in Spain and Morocco have called on both countries to investigate the deaths of at least 18 Africans and injuries suffered by dozens more who attempted to scale the border fence that surrounds Melilla, a Spanish enclave in North Africa.
Moroccan authorities said the casualties occurred when a “stampede” of people tried to climb the iron fence that separates Melilla and Morocco. In a statement released Friday, Morocco’s Interior Ministry said 76 civilians were injured along with 140 Moroccan security officers.
Local authorities cited by Morocco’s official MAP news agency said the death toll increased to 18 after several migrants died in the hospital. The Moroccan Human Rights Association reported 27 dead, but the figure could not immediately be confirmed.
The association also shared videos on social media that appeared to show dozens of migrants lying on the ground, many of them motionless and a few bleeding, as Moroccan security forces stood over them.
“They were left there without help for hours, which increased the number of deaths,” the human rights group said on Twitter. It called for a “comprehensive” investigation.
In another of the association’s videos, a Moroccan security officer appeared to use a baton to strike a person lying on the ground.
In a statement released late Friday, Amnesty International expressed its “deep concern” over the events at the border.
“Although the migrants may have acted violently in their attempt to enter Melilla, when it comes to border control, not everything goes,” Esteban Beltrán, the director of Amnesty International Spain, said. “The human rights of migrants and refugees must be respected and situations like that seen cannot happen again.”
APDHA, a human rights group based in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, and a joint statement released by five rights organizations in Morocco also called for inquiries.
A spokesperson for the Spanish government’s office in Melilla said that around 2,000 people had attempted to make it across the border fence but were stopped by Spanish Civil Guard Police and Moroccan forces on either side of the border fence. A total 133 migrants made it across the border.


EU’s Borrell says Iran nuclear talks to resume in coming days

Updated 25 June 2022

EU’s Borrell says Iran nuclear talks to resume in coming days

  • France urged Tehran to take advantage of Borrell’s visit to restore the pact while it remained possible

DUBAI: Talks on reviving the Iran nuclear deal will resume in the coming days, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Saturday during a visit to Tehran.
“We will resume the talks on the JCPOA in the coming days,” Borrell told a news conference in the Iranian capital, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. 

Borrell met Iran’s top diplomat on Saturday, Iranian state TV reported, as the bloc seeks to break an impasse between Tehran and Washington over reinstating a nuclear pact.
The United States said earlier in June it was awaiting a constructive response from Iran on reviving the 2015 deal — under which Iran restricted its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions — without “extraneous” issues.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian last week called on Washington, which exited the deal and then imposed crippling sanctions on Tehran during the Trump administration in 2018, to “be realistic.”
It appeared on the brink of revival in March when the EU, which is coordinating negotiations, invited ministers to Vienna to seal it after 11 months of indirect talks between Tehran and President Joe Biden’s administration.
But the talks have since been bogged down, chiefly over Tehran’s insistence that Washington remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), its elite security force, from the US Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list.
Two officials, one Iranian and one European, told Reuters ahead of Borrell’s trip that “two issues including one on sanctions remained to be resolved,” comments that Iran’s foreign ministry has neither denied nor confirmed.
France, a party to the deal, on Friday urged Tehran to take advantage of Borrell’s visit to restore the pact while it remained possible.


Palestinian killed by Israeli forces in West Bank: Palestinian sources

Updated 25 June 2022

Palestinian killed by Israeli forces in West Bank: Palestinian sources

  • Mohammad Hamad, 16, was shot and wounded near the village of Silwad

RAMALLAH: A Palestinian teenager died from his wounds hours after being shot by Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian sources said Saturday.
Mohammad Hamad, 16, was shot and wounded on Friday evening near the village of Silwad, near Ramallah in the northern West Bank, and died hours later, a Silwad councillor told AFP. The Israeli military did not immediately comment.
The teenager was near a road leading to the neighboring settlement of Ofra when he was wounded by Israeli soldiers, the councillor said.
His death comes amid a spike in Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Nineteen people, mostly Israeli civilians — including 18 inside Israel and a Jewish settler — have been killed in attacks by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs since late March.
Israeli security forces have responded with raids inside Israel and in the West Bank in which three Israeli Arab attackers and at least 46 Palestinians have been killed.
Among those killed were suspected militants but also non-combatants, including an Al Jazeera journalist who was covering a raid in Jenin.


Morocco: 18 migrants dead in stampede in bid to enter Spain's Melilla

Updated 25 June 2022

Morocco: 18 migrants dead in stampede in bid to enter Spain's Melilla

  • About 2,000 migrants breached the border between Morocco and Melilla on Friday
  • The casualties occurred when people tried to climb the iron fence

RABAT, Morocco: At least 18 African migrants died when a huge crowd tried to cross into the Spanish enclave of Melilla in northern Morocco, according to an update from Moroccan authorities.
Around 2,000 migrants approached Melilla at dawn Friday and more than 500 managed to enter a border control area after cutting a fence with shears, the Spanish government’s local delegation said in a statement about the first such incursion since Spain and Morocco mended diplomatic relations last month.
Moroccan officials said late Friday that 13 migrants had died of injuries sustained in the incursion, in addition to five who were confirmed dead earlier in the day.
“Some fell from the top of the barrier” separating the two sides, a Moroccan official said, adding that 140 security personnel and 76 migrants were injured during the attempt to cross.
The Spanish Civil Guard, which monitors the other side of the fence, said it had no information on the tragedy and referred enquiries to Morocco.
The border of the Spanish enclave and the neighboring Moroccan city of Nador were calm early Saturday, without police deployment, AFP journalists said.
Morocco had deployed a “large” number of forces to try to repel the assault on the border, who “cooperated actively” with Spain’s security forces, it said earlier in a statement.
Images on Spanish media showed exhausted migrants lying on the pavement in Melilla, some with bloodied hands and torn clothes.
Speaking in Brussels, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez condemned the “violent assault,” which he blamed on “mafias who traffic in human beings.”
Melilla and Ceuta, Spain’s other tiny North African enclave, have the European Union’s only land borders with Africa, making them a magnet for migrants.
On Thursday night migrants and security forces had “clashed” on the Moroccan side of the border, Omar Naji of Moroccan rights group AMDH told AFP.
Several of them were hospitalized in Nador, he added.
The AMDH’s Nador chapter called for the opening of “a serious investigation to determine the circumstances of this very heavy toll” which shows that “the migration policies followed are deadly with borders and barriers that kill.”
It was the first such mass incursion since Spain and Morocco mended diplomatic relations last month.
In March, Spain ended a year-long diplomatic crisis by backing Morocco’s autonomy plan for Western Sahara going back on its decades-long stance of neutrality.
Sanchez then visited Rabat, and the two governments hailed a “new stage” in relations.
The row began when Madrid allowed Brahim Ghali, leader of Western Sahara’s pro-independence Polisario Front, to be treated for Covid-19 in a Spanish hospital in April 2021.
A month later, some 10,000 migrants surged across the Moroccan border into Spain’s Ceuta enclave as border guards looked the other way, in what was widely seen as a punitive gesture by Rabat.
Rabat calls for the Western Sahara to have an autonomous status under Moroccan sovereignty but the Polisario Front wants a UN-supervised referendum on self-determination as agreed in a 1991 cease-fire agreement.
In the days just before Morocco and Spain patched up their ties, there were several attempted mass crossings of migrants into Melilla, including one involving 2,500 people, the largest such attempt on record. Nearly 500 made it across.
Patching up relations with Morocco — the departure point for many migrants — has meant a drop in arrivals, notably in Spain’s Atlantic Canary Islands.
The number of migrants who reached the Canary Islands in April was 70 percent lower than in February, government figures show.
Sanchez earlier this month warned that “Spain will not tolerate any use of the tragedy of illegal immigration as a means of pressure.”
Spain will seek to have “irregular migration” listed as one of the security threats on the NATO’s southern flank when the alliance gathers for a summit in Madrid on June 29-30.
Over the years, thousands of migrants have attempted to cross the 12-kilometer (7.5-mile) border between Melilla and Morocco, or Ceuta’s eight-kilometer border, by climbing the barriers, swimming along the coast or hiding in vehicles.
The two territories are protected by fences fortified with barbed wire, video cameras and watchtowers.
Migrants sometimes use hooks and sticks to try to climb the border fence, and throw stones at police.