'Hamas building its own phone network'

Hamas building independ

Hamas is being accused of attempting to create its own communications network in an effort to avoid eavesdropping and attain greater autonomy. Sources quoted by the Fatah-run PalVoice said the organization has been laying down phone network infrastructure for several months in an effort to connect Hamas members, institutions and high-ranking leaders such as Mahmoud Zahar. "It's wired, so they just extend cables to the houses or areas they want," a Gaza IT source told The Media Line under condition of anonymity. "They're not using frequencies." "If Hamas set up their own network they may compete with PalTel but I believe this is more a matter of information security," the source said. "If they're only wiring up a few people it's probably not for commercial purposes. It's probably more a matter of securing information over the phone." Ihab Ghussein, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry in Gaza told The Media Line he had no knowledge about a secret phone network and could not verify the report. Mashhour Abu Dakka, the Palestinian Minister of Telecommunications and IT told The Media Line he had also read the reports and could not verify a Hamas network. But eyewitnesses told the Web site that workers affiliated with Hamas were laying down network infrastructure at night and connecting phone lines to Hamas leaders' homes in Gaza. Informants allege Hamas is using Iran-sourced equipment smuggled into Gaza through tunnels. The project is reportedly an emulation of the independent telephone network Hizbullah set up in South Lebanon and the southern suburbs of Beirut in 2007. The alternative phone system was dubbed illegal by Lebanon's government and a violation of Lebanon's sovereignty. Revelation of the network sparked street riots as many Lebanese saw it as evidence of Hizbullah creating a 'state within a state.' Asked whether he thought the Palestinian Authority could stop Hamas from setting up a network in Gaza, the Gaza IT source said this was probably impossible "in the current security situation." "The Palestinian Authority cannot oversee Gaza," they said. "Hamas is on the ground and the Ministry of Telecommunications in Gaza is controlled by the Hamas government, so I don't think they will encounter any interference." Regional analysts have suggested a private network would strengthen Hamas, reduce phone tapping and allow the organization to become less reliant on Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. "We don't know if this network is in place or not," Ahmed Asef, a Fatah spokesman in the West Bank told The Media Line. "But in any case, Hamas is upsetting the whole Palestinian political system. What they're doing is wrong. We have a Palestinian law which also governs the communication sector and this sector is regulated." During the IDF's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza last winter, many prominent Hamas members switched off their mobile phones to avoid detection and having their conversations tapped by Israeli intelligence agencies. Currently, all landlines in Gaza and the West Bank are controlled by PalTel, a private company that has an operating license from the Palestinian Authority. If a call is made from Gaza to the West Bank or vice versa the call will pass through lines of the Israeli landline operator Bezeq. Regional analysts have said setting up a commercial network would involve large infrastructure and huge investments which are not apparent at this point. Regarding the possibility of Hamas setting up a mobile network, IT experts assume this would be almost impossible since it would require obtaining Israeli controlled frequencies. "Anything Hamas does now is illegal," Asef said. "Hamas has broken all the laws with the coup in Gaza against the Palestinian Authority, against Mahmoud Abbas and against the Palestinian law. The Palestinian people have an elected leader and Hamas have violated all the laws."