Access to the websites of Hamas' military wing has been blocked in Israel over the past week. The development comes as the Israeli military censorship is working to prevent the distribution of images which Hamas says show Israeli soldiers who took part in the failed operation in the Gaza Strip two weeks ago.
Users trying to enter one of the websites associated with the Palestinian organization are redirected to an error message on one of the Israeli government’s official websites.
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"We could not find what you are looking for. Please verify that the address you entered is correct. We will be happy to help, at the address firstname.lastname@example.org," the error message reads.
The Hamas websites are only blocked for users in Israel. The ban does not affect users in the rest of the world, including those using Palestinian internet service providers in the Palestinian territories.
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At least one of the domain names linked to Hamas no longer belongs to the organization and is now up for sale. Users are now being redirected to the American internet company GoDaddy, which sells domain names. The latest data shows that the domain name registration is only set to expire next week, but it is already up for sale.
The IDF's cyber battles with Hamas became public in recent days after Hamas published pictures it says show the soldiers involved in the botched op, including the officer who was killed in the incident. While the military censor attempted to limit the distribution of the pictures, Hamas tried to widen their distribution as much as possible and used a network of bots – computer programs that carry out tasks in an automated manner, imitating the behavior of human users – to do so on social networks.
Hamas concentrated its main efforts on Twitter, using Israeli-sounding usernames and impersonating several well-known Israeli journalists. The bots responded automatically to tweets that include the pictures, aiming at collecting as much information as possible from Israelis and spreading the pictures even further.
A covert operation to control Hamas' communications network?
Meanwhile, Lebanese daily al-Akhbar reported Wednesday that Israel's special unit that carried out the covert operation where an IDF officer was killed was trying to install surveillance equipment to monitor and control the internal communication network of Hamas' military wing.
According to the report, Hamas has completed 80 percent of its investigation into the November 11 operation.
The equipment the Israelis were trying to install, the paper said, had the capacity to harm the network's operations and even shut it down in an emergency, which would force Hamas to use less sophisticated – and therefore easier to foil – communication methods.
The unit brought its equipment into the Strip through a local collaborator who passed through the Kerem Shalom border crossing. The collaborator, according to the report, also prepared a vehicle for the fighters, which Hamas captured.
This was not the first time this unit entered Gaza to carry out missions, the report said. A previous mission took place at the beginning of 2018, when the Israeli unit entered Gaza through Kerem Shalom in order to install surveillance equipment in the switchboard of Hamas' communication network. In another mission, the unit entered the Strip dressed as technicians to install equipment in the eastern part of Gaza City. In both cases, according to the report, Hamas discovered the surveillance equipment.
Previously, the newspaper had said the most recent operation was an attempt to replace devices that were discovered several months ago. Walla news and the Israel Television News Company reported that the team worked out of a residence rented on its behalf under the cover of a humanitarian organization.
The Lebanese paper also said that the unit had entered Gaza through the Erez border crossing.
Those entering Gaza through Erez must pass through four checkpoints: On the Israeli side of the crossing, at the first registration position of the Palestinian Authority on the other side of the crossing, at the checkpoint of the Palestinian Authority police, and at the new registration position of Hamas, which has restarted operations these last few months.
If the report if accurate, it would therefore mean that the Israeli force passed through both a Palestinian Authority checkpoint and a Hamas one. The report further stated that the force entered the Strip by using forged identity cards featuring the identity of current Gaza residents - photos of which Hamas said it had released.
The Lebanese paper also quoted a tweet by Abu Ubaida, spokesman for Hamas' military wing Iz al-Din al-Qassam, where he praised the Palestinian people's assistance with providing information related to the investigation, including data received from Israeli citizens.
Military Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot appointed Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon to head a general assessment of the army’s special operations following the incident. In addition, findings from an army investigation into the incident will to be submitted to Eisenkot and Military Intelligence head Maj. Gen Tamir Heyman in the coming weeks, according to the IDF Spokesperson’s Office.
Announcement of the team headed by Maj. Gen. Alon followed a request from the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee to receive a classified briefing on the Gaza operation.
Generally such briefings are given by the defense minister – who, since the recent resignation of Avidgor Lieberman is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – or by the IDF chief of staff.