Israel accuses Palestinian NGO of spying for foreign agency

Security agencies have accused RAM (Public Association for Human Rights) of betraying the people it seeks to help

Security agencies in Israel have detained three staff of a Palestinian NGO and accused them of collaborating with a foreign spy agency to threaten Israeli secrets.

Two computers and three tablets have been confiscated from RAM (Public Association for Human Rights), a human rights group which works mainly in the West Bank.

Israeli security officials said the devices were infected with a spyware programme called Pegasus – code-named the Blackshades cyberweapon by security experts – designed to infiltrate human rights organisations and record communications.

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RAM said it was cooperating with Israeli investigators, but said the accusations were groundless.

“Israel has proven itself a country that is ready to violate international conventions, its obligations, and its people’s rights for its sake,” the deputy director, Manal Siam, said.

“RAM hopes that international institutions will examine these actions and not remain silent as human rights groups and civil society are blackmailed and robbed of their sources of information and training in human rights and civil liberties and Jewish-Palestinian relations.”

Security officials said the anti-spyware programme was initially made available in 2011 and has since been used by the military, air force, police and various branches of the justice ministry.

A general view of an airport in Tel Aviv, Israel. The office of Palestinian human rights NGO RAM has been accused of spying on Israeli government officials for a foreign spy agency. Photograph: Ariel Schalit/AP

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RAM said the laptop and tablet seized were used by one of its foreign staff. The organisation said it did not hire staff, or run a government service, and suggested its activities were being used to target NGOs.

The Palestinian Authority had blocked its website two days ago for a week after images and a speech advocating armed struggle for the Palestinian cause had been posted online.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that when it came to protecting Israel’s security from foreign threats “even hostile Palestinians collaborated with foreign states and companies”.

After mounting international pressure, the Israeli cabinet on Wednesday changed its decision to resume building Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

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