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(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas is convinced that many of the beggars who have popped up on the streets of the Gaza Strip are actually spies working for Israel.
This was the first time ever that the Palestinians accused Israel of using beggars as informants.
Palestinians who are convicted of "collaboration" with Israel are almost always sentenced to death. While most of the death sentences are not carried out, the accused are often killed by armed Palestinian groups or individuals.
Islam Shahwan, spokesman for the Hamas-controlled security forces, said that his men recently uncovered a "network of spies" which had deployed many beggars at main street intersections and traffic lights throughout the Gaza Strip.
He claimed that the ringleaders had exploited the economic crisis to recruit many poor children and women beggars as "collaborators" with Israel. He also accused the suspects of abusing the beggars sexually.
"Many people in the Gaza Strip, especially the youth, have turned begging into a profession," Shahwan noted. "The [Hamas-run] Interior Ministry has decided to combat the phenomenon and over the past few days we have arrested many beggars and those who operate them."
Social worker Nael Makadmeh warned that the phenomenon of begging had risen sharply over the past few months. He said that unlike in the past, where the majority of beggars were either disabled or elderly, the new street beggars came from a variety of ages and backgrounds.