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Israeli Defense Minister to visit France to discuss NSO

Israeli occupation Defense Minister Benny Gantz will travel to Paris this week to “keep the French authorities updated” on the latest developments concerning Israeli company NSO, whose Pegasus malware was found to be spying on French President Emmanuel Macron.

Gantz will meet with his French counterpart Florence Parly, as Israeli media reported.

The Pegasus software is at the heart of a global spy scandal that prompted the Reporters Without Borders NGO to demand a moratorium on its sale and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to demand more restrictions on the trade of these systems.

French paper Le Monde reported that Macron’s phone was on a list of potential targets for possible surveillance using Pegasus on behalf of Morocco.

Gantz’s trip was planned before the NSO affair, Israeli media said.

Macron called a national security meeting last week to discuss the spyware after reports about its use in France emerged.

“The president is following this subject closely and takes it very seriously,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal told France Inter radio, adding that the unscheduled national security meeting would be “dedicated to the Pegasus issue and the question of cybersecurity.”

Macron has also changed his mobile phone and phone number in light of the Pegasus spyware case.

“He’s got several phone numbers. This does not mean he has been spied on. It’s just additional security,” the official told Reuters.

From a list of more than 50,000 cellphone numbers obtained by the Paris-based journalism nonprofit Forbidden Stories and the human rights group Amnesty International and shared with 16 news organizations, journalists were able to identify more than 1,000 individuals in 50 countries who were allegedly selected by NSO clients for potential surveillance.

They include 189 journalists, more than 600 politicians and government officials, at least 65 business executives, 85 human rights activists and several heads of state, according to The Washington Post, a consortium member.

The journalists work for organizations including The Associated Press, Reuters, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, Le Monde and The Financial Times.

Amnesty also reported that its forensic researchers had determined that NSO Group’s flagship Pegasus spyware was successfully installed on the phone of Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, just four days after he was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018.

The company had previously been implicated in other spying on Khashoggi.

The Guardian, another consortium member, reported that Amnesty had found traces of Pegasus infections on the cellphones of 15 journalists who let their phones be examined after discovering their number was in the leaked data.

The most numbers on the list, 15,000, were for Mexican phones, with a large share in the Middle East.

NSO Group’s spyware has been implicated in targeted surveillance chiefly in the Middle East and Mexico.

Also on the lists were phones in countries including France, Hungary, India, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Pakistan.

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