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Israel using Facebook as 'spying tool' in Gaza

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Hamas has accused Israel of using Facebook to recruit spies from among the Palestinian community in the Gaza strip.

For years Israel has maintained a network of agents in the West Bank and Gaza. Those discovered face torture and almost certain execution as collaborators.

Hamas reckons fans of Bookface and similar services are giving away too much personal information on social networking sites and this, in turn, leaves them open to attempts to coerce them into becoming spies. How someone can be blackmailed or coerced into such a risky career using information in the public domain is unclear, and it seems more likely Israel is using social networking to map contact networks.

However what is clear is that Hamas is no fan of Facebook and not only because many Israelis use it. As Ehab al-Hussein, a spokesman for the Hamas-run interior ministry, explains it's because "many people don't have security sense".

"They go on the internet and talk about all their personal problems such as with their wives or girlfriends," al-Hussein lamented. The net "allows them to make people feel Israel knows everything about them", he added.

Al-Hussein is unusual in that he maintains a profile on Facebook but is careful about what he posts there. "I only say I am a Hamas spokesman," he told the BBC.

Sweat 'em with a poke

The 1.5 million souls packed in the Gaza strip have limited access to public services but net access via cybercafe is straightforward and popular, the BBC reports. Clued up to the fact that mobile communications can be intercepted and phones tracked by location, militants are making increased use of the internet.

Ronen Bergman, an Israeli expert on intelligence, told the Beeb that Israel's intelligence services were likely to keep close tabs on social networking sites (a safe enough bet) before engaging in some entertaining speculation about the nature of signals intelligence operations in the Palestinian Territories.

"Israel is using the personal information that is put in massive amounts on the internet to identify the people who can maybe help Israel," Bergman said. "If in 50 years they open up the secret files of the Israeli secret service, the Shin Bet, and military intelligence, the sophistication of electronics that is being used by Israel now in the Gaza Strip would put even the legendary Q from the James Bond movies to shame."

Bergman suggested Israeli authorities may be monitoring social networking sites to identify networks on contacts with links to either Hamas or local criminal networks. These people may subsequently be approached or at least monitored. He added that using info gleaned from the internet is insufficient in recruiting long-term informants.

Since the start of the second intifada ten years ago the border between Gaza and Israel has been closed to virtually all except those locals seeking medical treatment in Israel. Prior to that Palestinians who worked in Israel formed a potential source of recruits for Israeli intelligence. One Palestinian, injured in fighting in Gaza last year, told the BBC that border agents used information from Facebook to pretend they had a dossier on locals in a bid to pressure locals into handing over information on the membership of local militant groups.

Israeli authorities have previously dismissed reports that they sought information on militant groups in exchange for exit permits from Gaza as "ludicrous", the BBC adds. ®

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