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Palestinian Foreign Ministry detects Israeli spyware on the phones of three senior officials

THE Palestinian Foreign Ministry said last night it had detected spyware developed by the Israeli hacker-for-hire company NSO Group on the phones of three senior officials and accused Israel of using the military-grade Pegasus software to eavesdrop on them.

The Palestinian accusations against NSO came as the Israeli firm acknowledged that it had called off the appointment of its incoming chief executive in the wake of US accusations that its spyware has been used by repressive governments around the world.

Thursday’s announcement by the Foreign Ministry marked the first time Palestinian officials have claimed NSO software was used to spy on them.

Earlier this week, software was detected on the phones of six Palestinian human rights activists, three of whom worked for civil society organisations that Israel has controversially branded as terrorist groups.

The spyware can be secretly installed without the victim taking any action and gives full access to their phone, including real-time communications.

Israeli officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. NSO Group declined to comment on the specific allegations, saying it does not disclose its clients and does not have information on the individuals they target.

Ahmed al-Deek, the assistant Palestinian foreign minister for political affairs, said a “professional Palestinian institution” inspected several phones and detected Pegasus on three of them. It was not immediately clear if the results were verified by outside researchers.

The hacking of the activists’ phones was independently verified by security researchers at Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto and by Amnesty International. Amnesty said it had not been asked to verify the Foreign Ministry’s findings.

“We are 100 per cent sure that these three phones were hacked,” Mr al-Deek said. “They belonged to senior officials.”

A Foreign Ministry statement blamed Israel for the hacking, calling it a “blatant and immoral violation of international law,” and urged an international boycott of all parties involved.

NSO Group has come under fire in recent years after its software was found on the phones of rights activists, journalists, dissidents and other public figures from Mexico to Saudi Arabia.

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