The rally in front of the Red Cross offices in Gaza City (al-Quds, April 16, 2020).
Musheir al-Masri speaking at the rally (al-Araby al-Jadeed, April 16, 2020).
The council of religious sages and muftis meets in the Gaza Strip with the administrative emergency committee (website of the ministry of Muslim endowments in Gaza, April 20, 2020).
The fence after repairs (Twitter account of Ali Shoeib, April 19, 2020).
Hezbollah poster hung at one of the sites. The caption under the pictures reads, "#strong_revenge." The pictures are of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandas, Qassem Soleimani and Imad Mughnieh (Twitter account of Ali Shoeib, April 18, 2020).
- The Gaza Strip, Judea and Samaria have been relatively quiet because of the COVID-19 crisis. However, in Judea and Samaria Palestinians continue throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli vehicles. In the Gaza Strip Hamas continues the routine training of its elite units (the nukhba).
- In interviews for Palestinian Prisoners Day senior Hamas figures continue sending signals to Israel about their readiness to hold negotiations for an exchange of prisoners. Their top priority, according senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Zahar, are ailing and aged prisoners.
- The PA and Hamas are focusing most of their attention on the COVID-19 crisis. There are currently 314 reported cases in the PA and the number in the Gaza Strip has risen to 15. According to reports, all the patients in the PA are stable and no one is in intensive care (Mai al-Kayla, PA minister of health, April 21, 2020). The number of cases in east Jerusalem has risen by 12 to 132. A woman from the Silwan neighborhood died in Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital (Ma’an, Wafa, April 21, 2020). She was the second COVID-19 fatality from east Jerusalem.
- In the meantime the PA continues its smear campaign, accusing Israel of [allegedly deliberately] spreading COVID-19 to attack the national strength and health of the Palestinians. Kamil Abu Rukun, the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), said that such statements contradict the facts and harm the joint [Israeli-Palestinian] fight against the disease.
Palestinian Prisoners Day
- On April 17, 2020, Palestinian Prisoners Day was marked in the PA territories. Because of the COVID-19 crisis the decision was made to hold activities primarily on the social media. In Judea and Samaria the Palestinian people and the families of the prisoners were called on to hang prisoners’ pictures and fly the Palestinian flag from their balconies and roofs. The social media launched a hashtag entitled “the virus of the occupation is more dangerous than the coronavirus, [we are] with our prisoners until their liberation.” Palestinian Prisoners Day was exploited to call for the release of Palestinian [terrorist] prisoners while reiterating the [false] accusation that Israel deliberately infects the prisoners with the coronavirus.
- PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas said that despite the difficulties, the issue of the prisoners would always remain the PA’s top priority. He said that any peace agreement would have to include the release of the Palestinian prisoners. He called on the international community and human rights organizations to exert pressure on Israel to uphold international law and protect the prisoners. He said the Israeli government was responsible for the prisoners’ welfare (Wafa, April 16, 2020).
Notice on the social media calling for the release of the Palestinian prisoners because of the threat of COVID-19 infection (Facebook page of the PA’s commission of detainees and former detainees’ affairs, April 18, 2020).
- In light of the fight against COVID-19, a few rallies were held with a limited number of participants in Nablus, Yatta and Qalqilya. Participants held pictures of Palestinians imprisoned in Israel (Facebook page of the PA’s commission of detainees and former detainees’ affairs, April 16 and 17, 2020). The national and Islamic forces’ prisoners committee held a rally in Gaza City in front of the Red Cross offices, where. senior Hamas figure Musheir al-Masri gave a speech (al-Quds, April 16, 2020).
Right: The rally in front of the Red Cross offices in Gaza City (al-Quds, April 16, 2020). Left: Musheir al-Masri speaking at the rally (al-Araby al-Jadeed, April 16, 2020).
- Hamas issued a formal announcement claiming COVID-19 was a new danger the prisoners had been exposed to. It stressed that the issue of the prisoners would remain its top priority and that Hamas would make every effort to secure their release. Regarding a prisoner exchange deal, Hamas said its initiative was still in the hands of Israel (“the occupation”) and the door was open to any mediator who could get a positive answer to the initiative from Israel (Hamas website, April 17, 2020).
- The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) issued a formal announcement stating that the issue of the prisoners was the top priority of the “Palestinian resistance,” which would spare no effort to secure their release. The PIJ warned Israel not to try to exploit the COVID-19 crisis to harm the prisoners (PIJ website, April 18, 2020). For Palestinian Prisoners Day, Muhammad Hamid, a member of the PIJ’s political bureau, called for the military wings of the various [terrorist] organizations to prepare military plans for abducting Israeli soldiers, who would be exchanged for prisoners (Paltoday, April 16, 2020).
Prisoner exchange deal with Hamas
- In the meantime, in recent weeks Hamas has sent signals to Israel about its preparedness to promote a prisoner exchange deal because of the COVID-19 crisis:
- Isma’il Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, said Hamas’ military wing held “four Israeli soldiers” as prisoners and that Hamas was willing to hold indirect negotiations to reach a prisoner exchange deal. He said they would be interested in such a deal if Israel showed it was sufficiently serious (al-Arabi, April 17, 2020).
- Mahmoud al-Zahar, a member of Hamas political bureau, said Hamas had determined the conditions and the names of those whose release was a top priority, among them the ailing and the aged. He said Hamas’ principle was to release prisoners in any way possible. However, he said, Hamas did not want the matter to turn into a political game in which the Israeli prime minister would try to improve his status at the expense of the Palestinian prisoners (Felesteen, April 9, 2020).
Rocket and mortar shell fire into Israel
- For the past two weeks no rocket hits were identified in Israeli territory. However, on April 11 and 14, 2020, Hamas’ military wing fired at least two rockets towards the sea as part of a training exercise, apparently to maintain its offensive capabilities (Amad, April 14, 2020).
Monthly Distribution of Rocket and Mortar Shell Fire
Annual Distribution of Rocket Hits
- Despite the lockdown on most of Judea and Samaria, Palestinians continued throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli vehicles, although the number of attacks declined somewhat.
- The more prominent events were the following:
- April 20, 2020 – During an IDF activity near the Gush Etzion Junction the soldiers identified a number of Palestinians planning to throw Molotov cocktails at an IDF post. The soldiers shot at them, wounding one, who was taken to a hospital for medical attention (IDF spokesman, April 20, 2020).
- April 20, 2020 – Stones were thrown at an Israeli civilian bus southwest of Hebron. No casualties were reported. The bus was damaged (Rescue Without Borders in Judea and Samaria, April 20, 2020).
- April 19, 2020 – Stones were thrown at an Israeli civilian vehicle southeast of Ramallah. No casualties were reported (Rescue Without Borders in Judea and Samaria, April 19, 2020).
- April 19, 2020 – Stones and a Molotov cocktail were thrown at an Israel civilian vehicle east of Alfei Menashe. No casualties were reported. The vehicle was damaged (Rescue Without Borders in Judea and Samaria, April 19, 2020).
- April 19, 2020 – Stones were thrown at an Israel civilian vehicle near Ariel. No casualties were reported. The vehicle was damaged (Rescue Without Borders in Judea and Samaria, April 19, 2018).
- April 13, 2020 – Stones were thrown at an Israeli civilian vehicle southeast of Beit El. No casualties were reported (Rescue Without Borders in Judea and Samaria, April 13, 2020).
- April 13, 2020 – Stones were thrown at an Israeli civilian vehicle east of Alfei Menashe. No casualties were reported (Rescue Without Borders in Judea and Samaria, April 13, 2020).
- April 12, 2020 – Stones were thrown at an Israeli civilian vehicle south of Hebron. No casualties were reported (Rescue Without Borders in Judea and Samaria, April 12, 2020).
- April 10, 2020 – Stones were thrown at an Israeli civilian vehicle southwest of Ariel. No casualties were reported (Rescue Without Borders in Judea and Samaria April 10, 2020).
- April 9, 2020 – Stones were thrown at Israeli policemen closing a café in the Silwan neighborhood of east Jerusalem. The café was operating in violation of lockdown orders. A policeman who felt his life was in danger fired his weapon into the air. Two Palestinians were detained (Israel Police Force spokesman’s unit, April 9, 2020).
Significant terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria since January 2019
Detention of Israeli citizen who had contacts with Iranian intelligence
- The Israeli security forces detained Ayman Hajj Yahya, 50, an Israeli citizen from Taybeh, on suspicion of having contacts with Iranian intelligence. An investigation revealed he was being handled by Iranian intelligence and by an operative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in Lebanon. The investigation also revealed that he had met several times with members of Iranian intelligence while abroad. At the meetings he received money, instructions and means for encryption so he could remain in contact with them after his return to Israel. When he was detained encryption means were found, as was a flash drive which he attempted to destroy.
Ayman Hajj Yahya, detained on suspicion of having contacts with Iranian intelligence
(Ma’an, April 19, 2020).
- During interrogation he said he had been asked to provide information about security and strategic sites in Israel, and about how it would be possible to polarize Israeli society. He was also asked to find Israeli Arabs who could help Iran and carry out terrorist attacks against Israeli targets (Israel Security Agency, April 7, 2020).
The Rafah Crossing
- The general crossings authority of the ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip announced the exceptional four-day opening of the Rafah Crossing for Palestinians to enter Gaza from Egypt. The 1,632 Palestinians entered Gaza in batches. According to instructions from the ministry of health in Gaza, everyone who entered had to immediately self-quarantine for three weeks (Filastin al-Yawm, April 12, 2020). Among them two cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed (ministry of health in Gaza, April 20, 2020). The Turkish Hospital, which until now has stood empty, serves as an isolation facility for chronically ill Gazans who returned through the Rafah Crossing and who need medical attention (Filastin al-Yawm, April 13, 2020). Iyad al-Buzum, spokesman for the ministry of the interior in Gaza, said that after four days the Rafah Crossing was reclosed in both directions (website of the ministry of the interior in Gaza, April 16, 2020).
- According to Ali Baraka, a member of the Hamas ministry of Arab and international relations, Isma’il Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, is in contact with senior officials around the globe, discussing three main issues: the supply of medical equipment to fight COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip; the release of the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and the Palestinians imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Ali Baraka claimed that by virtue of Haniyeh’s conversation with Erdogan the Turkish Hospital in Gaza opened (alresala.net, April 9, 2020).
Hamas’ military wing continues training despite COVID-19
- Hamas’ military wing published pictures documenting routine military training conducted by operatives of Hamas nukhba unit (the military wing’s elite unit), despite the COVID-19 crisis. The pictures show the operatives wearing face masks (Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades’ Twitter account, April 18, 2020).
Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades nukhba forces continue training (Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades’ Twitter account, April 18, 2020).
Journalist detained in the Gaza Strip
- Iyad al-Buzum, spokesman for the ministry of the interior in Gaza, announced the detention of Rami Aman from Khan Yunis, a journalist and social activist. According to al-Buzum he was detained following “activity with the Israeli occupation” over the Internet and improving Israel’s online image (ministry of the interior in Gaza’s website, April 9, 2020). Note: Rami Aman has been detained by Hamas’s security forces a number of times because of his ties with Fatah and human rights activists in Israel.
The PA’s financial difficulties
- Shukri Bshara, PA minister of the treasury, said a decrease in the amount of tax revenue Israel transmits to the PA was expected because of the decline of commercial activity. He said the PA was holding discussions with Israel to ensure the transfer of 500 million shekels (about $140.7 million) a month for six months, the same amount of tax revenues transferred to the PA before the crisis. He said that if Israel did not agree, banks would lend them 200 million shekels (about $5.6 million) a month for six months (Wafa, April 12, 2020).
- On April 15, 2020, Shukri Bshara and Azzam al-Shawwa, chairman of the Palestinian monetary authority, announced that the PA had borrowed $400 million from Palestinian banks to fund Mahmoud Abbas’ emergency budget for the coming six months. Bshara said that currently the PA owed banks $2 billion. He said the additional funding was intended to allow the PA to deal with COVID-19, pay employees’ salaries and pay its debts to various suppliers (Ma’an, April 15, 2020).
- In talks PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh held with ambassadors and consuls of various countries, he said that the cost of the PA program to fight COVID-19 was $137 million. He said the PA’s budget deficit would reach $1.4 billion and the Palestinian economic losses would total $8.3 billion (Wafa, April 9, 2020).
- The World Bank estimated that if the COVID-19 crisis worsens the Palestinian economy is liable to decline by 7%. The World Bank also noted that the spread of the virus in the Gaza Strip would have serious consequences for its industry (Wafa, April 17, 2020).
- The European Union announced it would give the Palestinians €71 million to fight COVID-19, as well as €9.5 million for six hospitals in east Jerusalem, in addition to the €13 million the hospitals receive every year. The EU will also give €40 million to PA public service employees and €5.5 million to small businesses. Funds will also be transferred to NGOs and UN agencies operating in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, UNRWA among them (Sawa, April 9, 2020).
- Ahmed Majdalani, PA minister of welfare, said the number of unemployed in the PA (as of April 10, 2020), was 800,000. He said the ministry of welfare’s top priority was to help the 167,000 families directly affected by COVID-19. He said the next installment of help for needy families would be paid on April 14, 2020, and the installment after that would be funds for 10,000 additional families in the Gaza Strip (Sawa, April 10, 2018).
Contacts with Russia
- On April 9, 2020, PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss ways of fighting COVID-19. They also discussed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the need to promote joint efforts for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations based on international law. They expressed concern over taking unilateral steps that could undermine UN Security Council resolutions and the Arab peace initiative (Tass, April 10, 2020).
- Saeb Erekat, secretary of the PLO’s Executive Committee, spoke with Mikhail Bogdanov, Russian deputy foreign minister and special envoy to the Middle East. They discussed the fight against COVID-19 and the situation in the PA territories. They also discussed the future of an Israeli-Palestinian arrangement based on the possibility of creating a dialogue with the participation of the International Quartet (Wafa, April 18, 2020).
Israel responds to PA accusations of deliberately spreading COVID-19
- Although the PA is fighting the spread of COVID-19, it continues falsely accusing Israel of deliberately spreading the virus in the PA territories. Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian delegate to the UN, sent communiqués to the UN secretary general, and the presidents of the Security Council and General Assembly, protesting Israel’s conduct and its various [so-called] “violations” against the Palestinians during the fight against COVID-19. Mansour related to what he called Israel’s threats to annex the West Bank and its detentions in Judea and Samaria. He also noted the issue of the Palestinian [terrorist] prisoners in Israeli jails, accusing Israel of medical negligence (Ma’an, April 16, 2020).
- Ibrahim Melhem, PA government spokesman, said Israel was acting “condescending and violently” towards the Palestinian people and was trying to harm their national strength and health. He said the Palestinian leadership was explaining to various groups that Israel regarded the spread of the virus as an opportunity to employ violence against the Palestinian people. He said Israel was not the source of the virus but was the representative of a virus known as “occupation.” He added that Israel was responsible for the welfare of the residents of Jerusalem because it did not allow the Palestinian government to provide them with services. He also said that the only help Israel could give would be to end the [so-called Israeli] occupation (Wafa, April 13, 2020).
Palestinian cartoons representing Israel as spreading the coronavirus
(al-Quds, al-Jadeeda, April 20, 2018).
- Kamil Abu Rukun, the Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), said the statements made by senior Palestinian figures were at variance with reality and that Israel regarded such statements as crossing a red line and undermining the efforts Israel was making for the sake of a joint challenge. He called on the Palestinian leadership to stop making such statements and warned that otherwise there could be consequences in various areas (Ynet, April 17, 2020).
- According to the Israeli media, quoting a source in Israeli security, if the PA does not stop its incitement campaign Israel will reduce the freedom of movement of the PA’s security forces and limit their deployment, which has increased greatly because of the fight against the spread of COVID-19. It was reported that since the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis Israel had allowed the PA’s security forces to erect barriers at the entrances to the Palestinian cities, towns and villages, to move forces between the cities and to operate more visibly and prominently (Israel TV Kan Channel 11, April 12,2020).
PA preparations for Ramadan
- In preparation for the Muslim religious month of Ramadan, which will be celebrated this year in the shadow of the COVID-19 crisis, the PA and Hamas decided on a series of measures to prevent gatherings, especially in the mosques. The waqf council announced that al-Aqsa mosque would remain closed for the entire month of Ramadan in accordance with fatwas and warnings from medical experts against gatherings. The waqf stated that Muslim religious law requires people to pray at home (Wafa, April 16, 2020). The heads of the Sharia courts in the PA announced that the mosques would remain closed throughout Ramadan to save lives (al-Andalou News, April 16, 2020).
- PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh announced special measures for Ramadan. He repeated that the mosques will remain closed. Stores selling pastry will be open but without crowding. Clothing, shoe and cellular stores will be open on Fridays and Saturdays between 10:00 and 18:00 (Ibrahim Melhem’s Twitter account, April 20, 2020).
- On April 16, 2020, Khaled al-Asili, PA minister of the economy, said the PA had six months’ worth of food supplies and that there was no reason for concern during Ramadan. He said imports of food continue and the PA enables the transporting of food and other merchandise between the districts. He said his ministry had designated seven types of food which would be subject to full inspection to preserve a reasonable level of prices in the markets and to prevent price gouging.
- The Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip also announced that the mosques would remain closed, especially after Palestinians arrived in Gaza through the Rafah Crossing (al-Risalah, April 19, 2020). Hamas also launched a campaign with the hashtag “#obeying instructions is a replacement for prayers [in the mosques].” After meeting with the council of religious sages and muftis, and with the administrative emergency community, the deputy secretary of endowments announced they had decided to close the mosques during Ramadan. He called on residents to pray at home (al-Ra’i, April 20, 2020)
Right: The council of religious sages and muftis meets in the Gaza Strip with the administrative emergency committee (website of the ministry of Muslim endowments in Gaza, April 20, 2020). Left: Preparing the al-Zawiya market in Gaza City for Ramadan (Twitter account of Mu’aman Zaitar, April 17, 2020).
Initial reactions to the formation of the new Israeli government
- Some of the initial reactions to the formation of the new Israeli government were the following:
- Saeb Erekat, secretary of the PLO’s Executive Committee, said any Israeli coalition based on continuing the annexation of “the occupied land of Palestine” would be a clear threat, and not only to the peace, security and stability of the Middle East. He said the international community should demand accountability from the new Israeli government and a full implementation of its obligations according to international law and previously signed agreements (website of the PLO’s negotiating department, April 20, 2020).
- Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the signing of the [coalition] agreement was confirmation for the Palestinians that Israel is the enemy of the Palestinian people and the greatest threat to the region. He said signing the agreement should be an incentive to all the Palestinians to formulate a unified national strategy based on “resistance” and the defense of the rights and interests of the Palestinian people. He added that the political blocs in Israel had an extremist plan and with the signing of the coalition agreement they also signed the eradication of the rights of the Palestinian people and the annexation of the Palestinian people’s lands alongside the establishment of a Jewish state (Hamas website, April 20, 2020).
- Yusuf al-Hasseineh, a member of the PIJ,s political bureau, said the agreement between the Likud and the Blue-White Party for a new government was a step towards implementing the “deal of the century.” He added that the “Israeli annexation government” reflected the degree of extremism in Israel and was another blow to all those pinning their hopes on the possibility of renewing the process for an arrangement (PIJ website, April 20, 2018).
- Even beforehand, while contacts were still in progress for the formation of a new government, senior PA figures related to the government’s annexation plan. PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh, speaking with the ambassadors and consuls of a number of countries, said the agreement between the two large parties in Israel to form a government based on annexing parts of the West Bank increased the seriousness of the challenges the Palestinians currently had to deal with. He called for the formation of a strong position in view of the threats to defend international resolutions (Wafa, April 9, 2020).
The 32nd anniversary of the death of Abu Jihad
- For the 32nd anniversary of the death of Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad) and the 18th anniversary of the detention of Marwan Barghouti, Fatah’s youth movement issued an announcement stressing their intention to continue along their path (Wafa, April 16, 2020). Fatah’s announcement for the anniversary of the death of Abu Jihad called him a symbol of the national struggle and of sacrifice for the sake of Palestine and the freedom of the Palestinian people. Mahmoud Abbas called Abu a historic leader and a founder of the Fatah movement (Wafa, April 16, 2020).
Right: The Fatah memorial notice for Abu Jihad, “the shaheed Khalil al-Wazir. The first bullet and the first stone” (official Fatah Facebook page, April 15, 2020). Left: Notice in the daily newspaper al-Hayat al-Jadeeda, the official PA newspaper, in memory of Abu Jihad (al-Hayat al-Jadeeda, April 17, 2020).
Hezbollah activity on Israel’s northern border
- On April 18, 2020, a number of alerts were reported on the Israeli-Lebanese border. IDF forces conducted searches and found that the border fence had been damaged at three locations. Examination indicated that no one had entered Israeli territory. The IDF announced that Israel regarded the event as serious and held the Lebanese government responsible (IDF spokesman, April 18, 2020).
Right: One of three sites where the security fence on Israel’s norther border was damaged (Twitter account of INTELsky, April 18, 2020). Left: The fence after repairs (Twitter account of Ali Shoeib, April 19, 2020).
- Three days after the event the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar reported that three Hezbollah squads had carried out coordinated activities at the border fence. According to the report the activity had been planned as a “special intelligence and operational signal against the fortifications of [Israel’s] Northern Command” (al-Akhbar, April 21, 2020).
Right: Dummy IED claimed placed at a site where the fence was damaged. Left: A robot removes the dummy IED (Twitter account of Ali Shoeib, April 18, 2020).
Hezbollah poster hung at one of the sites. The caption under the pictures reads, “#strong_revenge.” The pictures are of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandas, Qassem Soleimani and Imad Mughnieh (Twitter account of Ali Shoeib, April 18, 2020).
 For further information, see the position paper of April 21, 2020, "COVID-19-triggered prisoner exchange deal: Opportunities, challenges, and policy recommendations." ↑
 A significant attack is defined by the ITIC as involving shooting, a vehicular attack, the use of IEDs, or a combination of the above. Stones and Molotov cocktails thrown by Palestinians are not included. ↑