Palestinian intel chief, head of West Bank bar association sue govt over CIA-backed wiretapping

Ramallah: A former Palestinian intelligence chief and the head of the West Bank bar association are suing the Palestinian self-rule government after a purported whistleblower alleged the two were targeted, along with many other allies and rivals of President Mahmoud Abbas, in a large-scale CIA-backed wiretapping operation.

Allegations of continued intelligence-sharing with the United States could prove embarrassing for Abbas who has been on a political collision course with Washington since President Donald Trump's recognition in December of the contested city of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

File image of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. AFP

File image of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. AFP

The claims are contained in a 37-page anonymous document that has been shared widely among Palestinians, mostly on WhatsApp.

The document alleges that three of the Palestinian security services set up a joint electronic surveillance unit in mid-2014 and monitored the phone calls of thousands of Palestinians, from senior figures in militant groups to judges, lawyers, civic leaders and political allies of Abbas.

The author describes himself as a former member of the surveillance unit who quit "this dirty job" several months ago because of his growing opposition to Palestinian government practices, including intelligence-sharing with the United States. He wrote that Trump's policy shift on Jerusalem provided another impetus to go public.

Bar association head Jawad Obeidat told The Associated Press on Monday that transcripts of his phone conversations, as published in the document, were accurate.

"I made these phone calls and this is evidence that the leaked report is true," said Obeidat, who spearheaded recent protests by lawyers after one of them was arrested from a courtroom during a legal case against the government.

"This is a blatant violation of human rights," he said. Tawfiq Tirawi, an outspoken Abbas critic and West Bank intelligence chief from 1994 to 2008, said he checked with his contacts and believes the document is authentic.

The CIA declined to comment.

In mid-January, when the document first surfaced, Palestinian security services said in a joint statement that it was part of a "plot" seeking to harm the political and security establishments.

Adnan Damiri, the spokesman of the security services, dismissed the document Monday as "nonsense."

The allegations come at a low point in Palestinian relations with the United States, following Trump's policy pivot on Jerusalem, whose Israeli-annexed eastern sector the Palestinians seek as a future capital.

Abbas said at the time that he was suspending contacts with US officials dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The US shift on Jerusalem angered many Palestinians, and in this context, allegations of continued intelligence-sharing with the US could pose a domestic political problem for Abbas.


Updated Date: Feb 06, 2018 14:37 PM

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