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Israel to set inquiry committee into police hacking allegations

Israel has said it is setting up a government inquiry commission to investigate allegations of the police using spyware on mobile phones of officials, businesspersons and civilians without authorization.

The police used the spyware NSO’s Pegasus to hack into phones of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Avner Netanyahu and two of his close associates, the newspaper Calcalist reported on Monday.

According to Calcalist, the police also targeted activists, journalists, civil servants, and the owner of Israel’s third-largest supermarket chain. A witness in Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption trial was also allegedly monitored, Xinhua news agency reported.

Led by a retired Supreme Court judge, the commission will “investigate in-depth the violation of civil rights and privacy in the years in question,” Internal Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev tweeted.

He said the commission will investigate not only the police use of Pegasus but also their other scandals, including an alleged hacking into the phone of Defense Minister Benny Gantz and other politicians while Netanyahu was in power.

“We will get to the bottom of it. We will eradicate corruption,” Omer noted.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who replaced Netanyahu in June 2021, said in a statement that “the reports about Pegasus if they are true, are very serious”.

Noting he will consult with other ministers, Bennett said “we won’t leave this without a response”.

Speaking at the parliament, Netanyahu, currently the opposition leader, viewed the police use of Pegasus as “a dark day for the state of Israel”.

The ousted leader said the alleged use of the spyware against civilians and public servants was “unthinkable,” urging the authorities to open an independent investigation.

President Isaac Herzog also voiced his concern. “We must not lose our democracy. We must not lose our police. And we must certainly not lose public trust in them. This requires an in-depth and thorough investigation,” he said in a statement.

According to Calcalist, the police used Pegasus during the term of former Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh, who led the force between 2015 and 2018.

The spyware infects mobile phones and enables operators to extract messages, photos, and emails, and secretly activate microphones and cameras. It drew international criticism after several governments around the world was found to misuse it to target officials, journalists, activists, and academics.

In November 2021, the company was blacklisted by the US Commerce Department over its engagement “in activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the US.”

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