Leading Hamas elements implicated in Israel spy-ring

Among those arrested were the head of the electronic unit in al-Qassam Brigades, the commander of telecommunications, and the leader of the security training and data collection unit.
Monday 13/07/2020
A file picture shows members of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian Hamas movement, taking part in a military parade in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Yunis. (AFP)
A file picture shows members of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian Hamas movement, taking part in a military parade in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Yunis. (AFP)

GAZA--Palestinian Hamas movement arrested 16 members of a spy-ring in Gaza it accuses of working for Israel.

The arrest has triggered a storm of infighting within Hamas since most of the accused belong to the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the movement. It also kicked up a flurry of questions and investigations regarding the circumstances of Israel’s success in infiltrating the ultra-radical organisation and may even shed light on numerous mysterious events and unexplained incidents in the past.

Palestinian sources close to the movement told The Arab Weekly that the arrested individuals were “defectors from the al-Qassam Brigades, and they had joined Salafist and ISIS organisations. The movement had expelled them and has been tracking them since; some of them were arrested because they were involved in criminal acts inside Gaza.”

Sunday’s revelations about the spying cell coincided with the escape of a Hamas field commander, Mohamed Omar Abu Ajwa, 32, from the Gaza Strip on an Israeli vessel, after his spying activity was uncovered. He is an important military leader in the movement and has played a prominent role in it in past years, which contradicts Hamas’s version that the cell was made up of known defectors who were affiliated with extremist groups.

Palestinian sources revealed to The Arab Weekly confidential information which shows that Abu Ajwa’s connection with Israeli services dates back to 2009.

He is a resident of Shuja’ia, married and has a son and a daughter. He held the position of Emir of the Islah Mosque in Shuja’ia and worked as a major in Hamas’s internal security department responsible for investigating spying suspects.

Sources also confirmed that Abu Ajwa was also in charge of the electronic surveillance system in the Shuja’iya neighbourhood, which includes surveillance cameras and underground tunnel networks dedicated to Al-Qassam Brigades. He supervised radio communication and all technical aspects related to security and the Brigades in Shuja’iya, in addition to working as a training officer in field intelligence, counter-espionage and personal security.

The same sources pointed out that investigations will be turning to Abu Ajwa’s potential role in the security breaches suffered by Hamas in al-Shuja’ia in the 2014 war with Israel, which had cost Hamas and the Gaza Strip huge losses.

They also recounted how the cell of spies was discovered. It all began when Mohamed Abu Ajwa asked his brother to collect money for him from a person known as “the Dealer” in Gaza. This person belonged to the so-called and well-known group of so-called Israeli “Arabists”, and was waiting in that region to distribute the funds that Israeli intelligence usually brings into Gaza for its agents.

Abu Ajwa’s brother, who also happens to be an official in al-Qassam Brigades, could not go to “the Dealer” because he was caught up in a meeting. So the brothers agreed that the Israeli agent should get out of Gaza as quickly as possible after leaving the money in a specific safe drop point next to garbage containers.

Members of Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades march with RPGs during a parade in Gaza.  (AFP)
Members of Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades march with RPGs during a parade in Gaza.  (AFP)

Following his meeting, Abu Ajwa’s brother went to collect the money but was caught red-handed by an al-Qassam Brigades security foot patrol in the area. He quickly gave information about his brother who was also arrested along with his wife at their home in al-Shuja’iya.

The investigations have established that Abu Ajwa had been working for the Israelis over the past 11 years, feeding them accurate and detailed information about al-Qassam Brigades’ technical military capabilities. The Brigades have long been boasting about their capacity to outwit the Israeli intelligence in the so-called “battle of the brains”.

Following the arrest of the Abu Ajwas, a security hysteria gripped Hamas. It conducted comprehensive high-level investigations in its military arm, made several arrests inside the East Gaza Brigade, and overhauled its entire surveillance and security system, including the camera, communications and tunnel networks. In other words, all the technical setup that took many years to build was useless as Israeli intelligence has known of its smallest details for years now;

The money seized in Abu Ajwa’s possession amounted to about half a million dollars. Also seized were some electronic devices for espionage and eavesdropping. Investigations are still ongoing in total secrecy for fear of discovering the involvement of major Brigades figures.

Among those arrested on charges of collaborating with Israel were the head of the electronic unit in al-Qassam Brigades, the commander of telecommunications, and the leader of the security training and data collection unit.

An officer from al-Qassam frogmen unit successfully escaped Gaza with a laptop computer in his possession after being picked up by an Israeli vessel.

Ayman al-Raqab, a professor of political science at Al-Quds University, said that Israel has always been spying on Palestinian forces and successfully doing so because there are always people, including Salafist elements, who cannot resist the temptation of money or the pressure.

He told The Arab Weekly that some extremist militants accept to work for Israel out of religious conviction, which is based on their belief that they should actually help Israel grow strong and arrogant because that would be one of the signs of its imminent demise in the future. Thus, by helping it, they believe that they are defending their religion and not betraying their country.

The recent breakthroughs in the investigations may shed some light on previous mysterious assassinations within the ranks of al-Qassam Brigades. They may also reveal the reasons behind the abuses suffered by Fatah movement members in the Gaza Strip during particularly harsh interrogations. Some of these activists were accused of treason and simply eliminated.

Palestinian researcher Osama Shaath called on the various national Palestinian factions not to downplay the gravity of this security breach and its repercussions on officers and individuals in the al-Qassam Brigades or other Palestinian movements, and to quickly assess the volume of confidential information leaked to Israel.

He told The Arab Weekly that the breach demonstrates the extent of the prejudice suffered by the Palestinians because of the presence of agents in the ranks of Hamas, and the many material and human losses this has caused in the past period. This, he says, requires a comprehensive review of all security and political activities.