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Hamas, Israel fight intelligence war

In light of ongoing investigations with suspected collaborators with Israel, Hamas’ security forces have managed to seize tracking chips Israel allegedly tried to smuggle into the Gaza Strip.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The repercussions of the botched Israeli intelligence operation in the east of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza on Nov. 13, 2018, continue to surface. Hamas-affiliated security forces in the Gaza Strip seized Feb. 16 electronic tracking chips hidden in military boots entering Gaza through the Kerem Abu Salem trade crossing.

Palestinian security forces in Gaza believe Israel was behind the attempt to smuggle electronic tracking chips into the Gaza Strip, based on the confessions of a suspect involved in providing logistics support to Israel.

The suspect, identified only by his initials M. Sh. was arrested by Hamas’ security forces following the botched Khan Yunis operation. In his confessions made public Feb. 11, M. Sh. said that on Oct. 2, 2018, an officer in the Israeli intelligence asked him to head to the Kerem Abu Salem crossing and receive two GPS systems that were inside the merchandise containers entering the Gaza Strip from Israel.

He claimed that a Palestinian Authority (PA) employee at the crossing facilitated the entry and exit without making any inspections.

Abu Mohammad, media spokesman for Al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades, Fatah’s armed wing, in Gaza, told Al-Monitor that one of its fighters bought cheap military boots from a shop in Gaza in early February for 50 Israeli shekels ($14), instead of the original price of 160-180 shekels (roughly $44-$50). The fighter got suspicious and inspected the shoe and found in its sole an electronic tracking chip.

In the wake of this incident and the confessions of collaborators, the Palestinian security forces imposed Feb. 12 security measures at the Kerem Abu Salem crossing and in the surrounding area, and asked 70 PA employees to sign a security questionnaire after taking their fingerprints in order to help in the security investigations. But the employees refused and left the crossing.

Hamas’ security forces then took control of the crossing, which it had handed over to the PA in the aftermath of the failed 2017 reconciliation agreement. They searched all incoming merchandise containers to the Gaza Strip from Israel, and seized, with the help of police dogs, electronic tracking chips in military boots that were hidden in one of the traders’ containers.

Iyad al-Bozm, spokesman for the Gaza Ministry of Interior, told Al-Monitor that Hamas’ security measures imposed on the Kerem Abu Salem crossing aim at ensuring and controlling the security situation in the Gaza Strip, following the security incidents there in the past months.

Bozm noted that workers at the crossing who are affiliated with the PA in Ramallah refused to cooperate with the security forces in Gaza and retreated from the crossing. As a result, the security forces in Gaza focused on securing the crossing and organizing the entry of vehicles.

Bozm refused to disclose any security information related to the Israeli electronic tracking chips that were seized, saying, “We currently refrain from disclosing any information in this regard.”

Officials in the PA-affiliated General Administration of Crossings and Borders refused to make any statements to Al-Monitor.

A Palestinian security source from Gaza told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the ongoing investigations carried out by Hamas’ security forces proved that the Kerem Abu Salem crossing is the main gateway used by the Israeli security forces to transfer spy or logistics equipment or funds to collaborators in the Gaza Strip.

He noted that most PA workers at the crossing were not aware of this.

The source stated that some collaborators revealed during investigations to the security forces that spy equipment was hidden in containers of merchandise from Israel. As a result, the source said, the security forces put in a place a strict security plan to search all merchandise entering Gaza.

He added that the successive security achievements following the botched Israeli operation in Khan Yunis tightened the noose on the Israeli security forces’ work in the Gaza Strip, as many of their collaborators were arrested.

Following the military failure of Israel in the 2014 Gaza war, Israel admitted that the main reason was the weak intelligence information they had about armed Palestinian factions and their military equipment. This pushed Israel to intensify its intelligence efforts after the war.

Ibrahim Habib, professor of security studies at the Management and Politics Academy in Gaza, told Al-Monitor that the Palestinian successes in discovering smuggled equipment do not necessarily mean Israel will stop trying to seep into the armed Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip. The intelligence war between the two sides is long and ongoing, he noted.

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