Sinwar slideshow gives glimpse of secret service he runs to spy on Gazans: NYT

Presentation, said to have been prepared for viewing by Hamas leader and reviewed by newspaper, shows terror group’s surveillance of people in Gaza it suspects of dissent

Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar speaks during a rally marking Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day, in Gaza City, April 14, 2023. (Mohammed Abed / AFP)
Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar speaks during a rally marking Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day, in Gaza City, April 14, 2023. (Mohammed Abed / AFP)

Hamas terror group leader Yahya Sinwar ran a secret police force that surveilled young people, journalists and those who showed dissent, compiling files on at least ten thousand Gazans, The New York Times reported Monday.

The General Security Service focused on censorship, intimidation and surveillance rather than violence, the newspaper said, based on Hamas internal documents it received from officials in Israel’s military intelligence directorate, as well as information from intelligence officials.

A Palestinian familiar with the GSS said it is one of three internal security entities in Gaza, the other two being Military Intelligence and the Hamas-run Interior Ministry’s Internal Security Service.

The organization’s current status is unclear due to the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip and Israel’s ongoing destruction of Hamas infrastructure. A Hamas spokesperson told the Times that those responsible for the GSS were not available during the ongoing war.

The report cited a 62-slide presentation it said was prepared weeks before the devastating Hamas October 7 attack on Israel that started the war. The document was recently uncovered in the Gaza Strip, Israeli officials told the Times.

Three intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Sinwar directly oversaw the GSS. They noted that the slideshow seen by the Times was prepared for Sinwar’s personal viewing.

Hamas security forces stand at a security checkpoint in Gaza City on April 5, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Slides discussed security for Hamas leaders and how to quash protests, including those last year over power shortages and the cost of living.

They showed the GSS was made up of 856 people before October 7 and had monthly expenses of $120,000. Of the staff, 160 were employed to spread Hamas propaganda and attack online the movement’s opponents in Gaza or abroad.

Reporters were able to speak with some of those who showed up in the files and who could confirm details of information the GSS complied.

The Times said it reviewed seven intelligence files covering the period from October 2016 to August 2023. Israel’s military intelligence directorate told the paper that it knows the GSS had files on at least 10,000 Gazans.

The information showed that Hamas does not tolerate any dissent, works to have criticism deleted from social media and mulled how to defame political rivals, it said.

Slides suggested “undertaking a number of offensive and defensive media campaigns to confuse and influence adversaries by using private and exclusive information,” the report cited.

It relied on a network of informants, some of whom even supplied information on their own neighbors.

One file discussed Ehab Fasfous, a journalist in the Gaza Strip, describing him as one of “the major haters of the Hamas movement.”

It detailed how Fasfous was stopped by GGS officers last year as he headed to a protest, and his phone was taken. A review of his recent calls found he was in contact with “suspicious people” in Israel, according to the file on him.

“We advise that closing in on him is necessary because he’s a negative person who is full of hatred, and only brings forth the Strip’s shortcomings,” the file advises, and recommends to “defame him.”

Fasfous, in a phone call from Gaza, described the incident to the Times saying he was accosted by two plainclothes officers. He said the people in Israel he was in contact with were Palestinians who owned food and clothing companies and that he had helped operate their social media accounts. He also claimed that officers used his phone to send flirtatious messages to a colleague “to pin a moral violation on me.”

Records reviewed by the Times indicated that some people were also watched over suspicions they were conducting romances outside of their marriages.

Hamas, the files showed, is suspicious of foreign organizations and journalists, the report said, and the GSS also shadowed members of the allied terror group the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Hamas operatives take part in a military parade to mark the anniversary of the 2014 war with Israel, in the central Gaza Strip, July 19, 2023. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

Michael Milshtein, a former Israeli military intelligence officer who was tasked with Palestinian affairs, described the GSS as “just like the Stasi of East Germany.”

Mkhaimar Abusada, a professor of political science from Gaza City, told the Times: “There are a lot of people practicing self-censorship…They just don’t want problems with the Hamas government.”

War erupted when Hamas led a massive cross-border attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians. Israel responded with a military campaign to topple the Hamas regime, destroy the terror group, and free 252 hostages who were abducted during the October attack and taken as captives to Gaza. Sinwar has been in hiding since the start of the war.

Fasfous has had a run-in with authorities since the start of the war. When he took pictures of Gaza security forces hitting people who were embroiled in an altercation while waiting in line outside a bakery, his camera was confiscated.

He complained to a government official in Khan Younis but was told to stop “destabilizing” inside Gaza.

“We can’t have a life here as long as these criminals remain in control,” Fasfous said.

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