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State seeks to seal court petition on South Sudan spy supplies

MK Zandberg had demanded explanations about tracking equipment sold to war-torn African nation; says all the information is already public

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg in the Knesset, February 24, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg in the Knesset, February 24, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The state on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court to impose confidentiality on a petition filed by Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg against the export of Israeli surveillance equipment to South Sudan where it has allegedly been used to crack down on government opponents.

Zandberg on Wednesday responded to the state’s request, saying that all the information mentioned in her petition had already been made public.

“The petition is based on open material that has been published in reports and the media,” she tweeted. “What is there to be afraid of?”

In January, a United Nations report on South Sudan found that the ability of the South Sudanese government’s National Security Service “to identify and illegally apprehend individuals has been significantly enhanced since the beginning of the conflict because it has acquired additional communications interception equipment from Israel.”

Zanberg’s petition, filed in May, called for the Supreme Court to issue a conditional order instructing Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, the Foreign Ministry, and the head of the department for defense export control to explain why Israel has not canceled export licenses for surveillance systems to South Sudan, at least until the end of the civil war in the country.

Justice Anat Baron has already made a preliminary decision to schedule a hearing before a panel of three judges as soon as possible, the Haaretz daily reported Wednesday. The state demanded that the hearing be held behind closed doors.

South Sudanese government forces ride on a vehicle through a still-smoldering town on January 12, 2014. (AP/Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin, File)
South Sudanese government forces ride on a vehicle through a still-smoldering town on January 12, 2014. (AP/Mackenzie Knowles-Coursin)

Last August, an interim UN report found the South Sudanese army was using Israeli weapons to fight its civil war. Photographs showed South Sudanese officers and soldiers using the Ace, an advanced version of the Galil assault rifle, Haaretz reported at the time. The rifle is produced by Israel Weapon Industries.

A UN delegation that came to Israel in the wake of the findings was told the weapons had been sold before the civil war broke out in 2013 and that since the commencement of the fighting Israel has provided only nonlethal equipment.

The civil war in South Sudan continued for 18 months amid allegations of human rights violations, including the use of child soldiers. The two warring sides finally signed a UN-brokered peace agreement in August 2015 but a planned transitional unity government has so far failed to form.

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