- Hamas’ reactions to the three events were ambivalent. On the one hand, senior Hamas figures, including Hamas leader Yahya al-Sinwar, praised the attempts, calling them “heroic actions.” Hamas spokesmen criticized Israel for killing them and expressed understanding for their motives. On the other hand, Hamas did not claim responsibility or state that the terrorists had acted in accordance with its policies. Hamas also did not respond to the IDF’s killing the operatives and contained the events. Publicly, Hamas related to the activities of “angry young men” who carried out “individual actions” motivated by personal decisions not within the framework of Hamas’ military wing.
- At the same time, according to the media, Hamas worked behind the scenes to prevent attacks from recurring. Hamas increased the deployment of its security forces near the border and detained Palestinians who tried to approach the fence with the intention of infiltrating into Israeli territory. Moreover, according to an article in al-Monitor (August 13, 2019), Hamas sent a message to Egypt claiming it would carry out an internal inspection of the restraint force’s functioning to prevent uncoordinated actions against Israel.
- In ITIC assessment, the increased frequency of the penetration of armed terrorists into Israeli territory does not indicate a change in Hamas policy. Since the end of March 2018 Hamas has sought to employ controlled violence against Israel, including riots near the fence during the return marches (such as the throwing of IEDs and hand grenades and sabotaging the fence), launching incendiary and IED balloons and firing rockets at Israel in the several rounds of escalations. Their intention is to extract concessions from Israel and the Arab world, especially the “lifting of the siege” and the receipt of massive economic aid to ease the daily lives of the Gazan population. So far, the policy has had achievements, but they do not meet the expectations of Hamas and the residents of the Gaza Strip.
- The penetration of individuals or squads of armed terrorists into Israeli territory is so far not on the “menu” of Hamas’ controlled violence (see above). However, in ITIC assessment Hamas is not overly motivated to carry out effective preventive activities to put a stop to the penetrations. The two main reasons for that are first, basic sympathy and support (within both the civilian population and Hamas) for the operatives who carry out the attempts, accompanied by criticism of Hamas; and second, the feeling that is beginning to spread in the Gaza Strip (and which has been expressed by Hamas’ rivals on the Gaza Strip, and even within Hamas) that the return marches have not led to the expected achievements and that alternative methods of acting against Israel have to be found.
The Hamas Position on Attempted Penetrations
- Publicly Hamas does not condemn the attempts to penetrate into Israel. The opposite is true, senior Hamas figures, including Yahya al-Sinwar, have praised the attempts and blamed Israel for them. In ITIC assessment their response is motivated by public opinion in the Gaza Strip, which supports the penetrations and those who carry them out, at the same time raising questions about the effectiveness of the return marches.
- The Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar quoted “Hamas sources” as saying that Hamas conducted internal investigations which revealed that the three penetrations into Israel were carried out by operatives of Hamas’ military wing, independent decisions made on the spur of the moment, without instructions from Hamas’ political or military leadership. According to the sources, Egyptian and UN mediators contacted the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip before Eid al-Adha and asked for clarifications regarding the penetrations. Hamas emphasized in its response that they were carried out “by individuals.” The sources added that Hamas exploited the recent penetrations to increase pressure on the mediators, and through them on Israel. Hamas stated it would accept no responsibility for the penetrations and could not deal with them in light of the conditions in which the Gazans live. Hamas demanded the mediators hasten the transfer of funds for needy families and accelerate the implementation of electrical projects (al-Akhbar, August 14, 2019).
- Palestinian sources reported that Hamas and its security forces were also operating on the ground to prevent the repetition of such actions.
- A source “close to Hamas” reported that after the three attempts to penetrate into Israel (in which six Palestinians were killed) the security forces decided to increase their deployment along the border to prevent attempts by armed operatives to approach the security fence (Amad, August 13, 2019).
- It was reported that on August 12, 2019, Hamas security forces detained an armed Palestinian who was approaching the fence east of the al-Bureij refugee camp (UAE’s 24 website, August 12, 2019; the al-Hadath Facebook page, August 12, 2019). It was also reported that a Hamas restraint force, responsible for security near the border, detained two young Palestinians who tried to infiltrate into Israel east of Deir al-Balah after IDF forces shot at them (alklaanews Twitter account, August 12, 2019; Twitter account of the Russia Today reporter, August 12, 2019; Ghaza al-A’an website, August 12, 2019).
- Al-Monitor quoted an Israeli source as saying that after the killing of a Hamas restraint force operative who was trying to penetrate into Israeli territory (August 1, 2019), Hamas sent a message to Egypt saying it had decided to undertake an internal inspection of the restraint force. Hamas gave its word it would investigate its operatives to locate those who had “hidden agendas” to carry out attacks in Israel. Although that was not specifically stated, it can be assumed that operatives whose relatives were killed in the past by IDF force fire will be removed from the restraint force (article by Shlomi Eldar, al-Monitor, August 8, 2019).
- The al-Monitor website reported there were internal problems in Hamas in the wake of the attempts to penetrate into Israeli territory (al-Monitor, August 13, 2019):
- According to senior Hamas figure Yahya al-Musa the “resistance’s” lack of recognition of the attempts was exceptional, and was related to the unusual situation caused by the efforts to stabilize a lull agreement. He added that Hamas had currently suspended military activities against Israel to give the efforts an opportunity to succeed. In his opinion that explains why Hamas does not claim responsibility for the attempts to penetrate into Israel.
- Iyad al-Qara, a political columnist and commentator who writes for Hamas’ newspaper Felesteen, wrote that Hamas did not want or encourage individual military activities. He said Hamas does not want to claim responsibility for those activities because it is worried about a renewed confrontation with Israel. He added that clearly the activities were undesirable in light of the ongoing Egyptian efforts to implement the lull. However, in his assessment, other “resistance” operatives would carry out individual acts against Israel because the organizations did not respond to the IDF’s continuing fire at return march demonstrators.
- A senior figure in the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades in Khan Yunis, who preferred to remain anonymous, said there was dissatisfaction among some the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades operatives with the adherence of Hamas’ political leadership to the option of a lull with Israel. That was especially true in light of Israel’s continuing evasion of its commitments to the lull agreement. He said dissatisfaction increased when Hamas did not respond to the killing of military operative Mahmoud al-Adham in the northern Gaza Strip on July 11, 2019. Despite the criticism, the senior figure stressed that Hamas’ military leadership was committed to the decisions of the political leadership. He denied the existence of disagreements within the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades regarding the lull. He said he foresaw that if Israel continued delaying the implementation of the lull arrangement, other “resistance” operatives would carry out “individual actions” against Israel without receiving authorization from the military leadership.
Attempts made by armed terrorists to penetrate into Israel since August 1, 2019
Attempt No. 1: Prevention of penetration of armed terrorist from the southern Gaza Strip (August 1, 2019).
- On August 1, 2019, at 0200, IDF soldiers identified a suspicious figure approaching the security fence in the southern Gaza Strip. An alert was issued and forces were rushed to the site. IDF forces identified a Palestinian crossing the security fence east of Khan Yunis. He shot and wounded three IDF soldiers, one of them seriously. He was shot and killed. During the incident an IDF tank fired at a Hamas post (IDF spokesman, August 1, 2019).
- The Palestinian media reported that the Palestinian fatality was Hani Hassan Abu Salah, 20, an operative in Hamas’ military wing (Sawa, August 1, 2019). He was apparently an operative in Hamas’ restrain force (al-Monitor, August 8, 2019). His brother, Fadi Abu Salah, disabled and on crutches, routinely participated in the return marches and was killed during a return march on May 14, 2019 (Shehab Facebook page, August 1, 2019).
Right: Palestinian terrorist Hani Abu Salah armed and in uniform (Twitter account of Amin al-Wafi from Gaza, August 1, 2019). Left: Hani Abu Salah in a mosque (Twitter account of Abu Rida from Gaza, August 1, 2019).
Right: Hamas observation post east of Khan Yunis, attacked by an IDF tank (Shehab Facebook page, August 1, 2019 ). Left: Sand barrier constructed by the IDF near the security fence to prevent anti-tank fire from the Gaza Strip (Amad website, July 29, 2019). Hani Abu Salah hid behind such a barrier.
Attempt No. 2: Prevention of penetration of four armed terrorists (August 10, 2019)
- Before dawn on August 10, 2019 an IDF observation post identified four armed figures approaching the security fence in the central Gaza Strip (east of the Deir al-Balah refugee camp). After one of them crossed the fence IDF forces were rushed to the site. They opened fire, killing the four terrorists. During the clash a hand grenade was thrown at the IDF soldiers. No casualties were reported. The Palestinian media reported that [in response] the IDF attacked two posts of the “defenders of the borders” east of Deir al-Balah and shot flares (Palinfo Twitter account, August 10, 2019).
- The four terrorists wore improvised uniforms and were armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, an RPG launcher and grenades. They had equipment for cutting through the security fence and food which included energy bars and dates. They also came equipped with a first aid kit (IDF spokesman, August 10, 2019). Their weapons and equipment indicated they were planning a major attack against either IDF soldiers or Israeli civilians and were planning to spend an extended period of time on the ground.
The weapons and equipment found in the possession of the four terrorists (IDF spokesman, August 10, 2019).
- There were contradictory media reports about the terrorists’ identities and places of origin. According to the initial version (in ITIC assessment, unreliable), reported by the Amad website, they were Hamas operatives following a Palestinian Salafist who carried IEDs and tried to break through the security fence east of Deir al-Balah. The version later issued was updated to claim that all four terrorists were Salafists who had been expelled from Hamas’ military wing three months previously. Their names were also given (Amad, August 10, 2019).
Right: Two of the terrorists who carried out the attack: Abdallah al-Hamayda (Abu Musab) (left) and Ahmed al-Adini (Facebook page of Ahmed al-Adini, April 17, 2019). Left: Rashad al-Badini (Almaghazinew Facebook page, August 10, 2019).
Right: Abdallah al-Ghomri, from his Facebook page, February 6, 2019. Left: Abdallah al-Ghomri (right) and Ahmed al-Adini (Facebook page of Ziyad al-Arabin Hanjuri, August 10, 2019).
Attempt No. 3: Prevention of penetration of armed terrorist (August 11, 2019)
- Before dawn on August 11, 2019, IDF observation posts identified an armed terrorist approaching the security fence in the northern Gaza Strip. He shot at the IDF force rushed to the site. The soldiers returned fire, killing him. During the event IDF tanks fired at Hamas posts in the area (IDF spokesman, August 11, 2019). The Palestinian media reported that “resistance” observation posts were attacked east of Beit Hanoun (Shabakat Quds Twitter account, August 11, 2019).
- The Palestinian media reported that the operative killed was Marwan Khaled Abd al-Ghani Nasser, 26, from Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip (Gaza al-A’an, August 11, 2019). Reportedly, he was an operative in the Hamas restraint force (arabi21, August 11, 2019). The social networks reported he was an operative in Hamas military wing and that his father, Khaled Nasser, until his death, was an operative in Hamas’ military wing. Marwan Nasser’s body was buried with a green headband of Hamas’ military wing (Facebook page of journalist Hassan Aslih, August 11, 2019; Ghaza al-A’an Twitter account, August 11, 2019).
Right: Terrorist operative Marwan Nasser. Left: The body of Marwan Nasser with a green Hamas headband (Facebook page of journalist Hassan Aslih, August 11, 2019).
 For information about Hamas' policy of controlled violence against Israel, see the June 25, 2018 bulletin, ''Hamas' new policy towards Israel: from restraint and calm to controlled violence, creating escalation.'' ↑
 That view was expressed in an article by Husam al-Dajani, head of public relations and media department of the social development ministry in the Gaza Strip. He listed a series of causes for the decline in the number of return march participants, compared with March 2018. He wrote that for various reasons the return marches have become routine and without innovation (Hamas' newspaper Felesteen, August 4, 2019). Recently there have been statements calling rocket a raise in raise the level of controlled violence against Israel. ↑
 After the killing of the four terrorists who tried to enter Israel on August 10, 2019, great sympathy was expressed on the social media in the Gaza Strip for the operatives killed, along with criticism for the organizations for not giving them official support. ↑
 The restraint force is a unit established by Hamas to prevent uncontrolled activity near the border by "rogue" organizations, which are liable to involve Hamas in an unwanted confrontation with Israel. ↑
 For example, Hani Abu Salah was a restraint force operative killed while attempting to penetrate into Israeli territory on August 1, 2019. His brother, Fadi Abu Salah, a double-leg amputee, regularly participated in return marches. He was killed during a march on May 14, 2019 (Shehab Facebook page, August 1, 2019). ↑
 On July 11, 2019, an IDF force identified a number of Palestinians near the security fence east of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip. The soldiers fired shots to distance the suspected. A Palestinian was wounded and later died. The IDF's initial investigation revealed he had been an operative in Hamas' restraint force, who had been following two Palestinians who were near the fence. The IDF force that arrived on the scene mistook him for an armed terrorist and shot at him (IDF spokesman, July 11, 2019). ↑