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Hamas secret police force behind wide-reaching, repressive surveillance, files show

The surveillance network relied on a network of informants.

Published: May 14, 2024 9:41am

Average Palestinians have been subjected to surveillance by a secret Hamas police force in the Gaza Strip, according to intelligence officials and documents. 

The General Security Service, the formal name of the Hamas secret police force, relied on a network of informants to gather information ranging from people who publicly criticized Hamas to those who had extramarital relationships, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times for an article Monday.

For years, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar has overseen the force, Israeli intelligence officials said. Hamas spokesman Basem Naim said the officials responsible for the unit were unreachable due to the Israel-Hamas war.

The unit, which is one of three security forces in Gaza, had 856 people and monthly expenses around $120,000 before the war began, documents show. More than 160 people, or about 20% of the police force personnel, were paid to spread Hamas propaganda and launch attacks online against domestic and international opponents. The unit had files on at least 10,000 Gazans, some of whom were reported to the police by their own neighbors.

While many Palestinians are aware that they are under surveillance, the documents show that Hamas leaders would not tolerate any hints of dissent. Hamas even tracked Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives, even though the terrorist group often works with Hamas. 

A 62-slide presentation of the unit, which Israel said was personally prepared for Sinwar and delivered weeks before the Oct. 7 attack, shows the deep degree to which the unit infiltrated the lives of Palestinian civilians.

The presentation included slides about the personal security given to Hamas leaders, while other slides discussed how to crack down on protests, such as the "We Want to Live" demonstrations last year that focused on the difficult financial situation in Gaza.

Gaza journalist Ehab Fasfous, who is labeled in the General Security Service's files as being one of the "major haters of the Hamas movement," was stopped on his way to a protest in August 2023, and had his phone seized, per the report. Fasfous confirmed the interaction during a telephone interview from Gaza with the Times.

The officials then used his phone to send his colleague flirtatious messages, in what Fasfous said was an attempt to "pin a moral violation" on him.

"If you’re not with them, you become an atheist, an infidel and a sinner," Fasfous said. 

The encounter in August did not stop his reporting during the war. In the early days of the conflict, Fasfous said he took pictures of security forces attacking people who fought over spots in a line outside of a bakery, and officials took his camera. After he expressed his concerns to a Khan Younis government official, he was told to stop reporting, Fasfous said.

"I told him I was reporting on the truth and that the truth won’t hurt him, but that fell on deaf ears," Fasfous also said. "We can’t have a life here as long as these criminals remain in control."

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