"Return march" demonstrators in eastern Rafah.
Fathi Hamad gives a speech in eastern Jabalia.
The press conference (Correspondent Hassan Aslih's Twitter account, December 22, 2018).
The weekly mini-flotilla and accompanying demonstration in the northern Gaza Strip (The Supreme National Authority Facebook page, December 24, 2018).
The Palestinian delegation meets with Iranian foreign minister Zarif (third from right) (Hamas Change and Reform faction Facebook page, December 23, 2018).
Mahmoud Abbas at the meeting of the Palestinian leadership in the Muqata'a in Ramallah (Mahmoud Abbas' Facebook page, December 22, 2018).
Riyad al-Maliki and Sergey Lavrov (right) (Palestinian foreign ministry's Facebook page, December 21, 2018).
- The level of violence at the “return march” held on Friday, December 21, 2018, was higher than in previous weeks. Rioters threw stones, burned tires, threw hand grenades and IEDs at IDF soldiers and on a number of occasions tried to cut through the security fence. As a result of the violence four Palestinians were killed.
- Following the events, Hamas and the other terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip sent Israel an explicit warning. The joint operations room of the terrorist organizations said the events of the march on December 28, 2018, would be a “critical test” for Israel. If Palestinians are harmed during the march, they claimed, the response would be strong. Thus despite the decrease in violence during the past few weeks, the potential for escalation still exists.
- After the escalation in terrorism in Judea and Samaria during the past week (four shooting, stabbing and vehicular attacks) there was a decrease in quantity and “quality.” In ITIC assessment, part of the reason was the intensive Israeli security forces’ counterterrorism activity.
- At a meeting of the Palestinian leadership, Mahmoud Abbas announced that the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) Constitutional Court had decided to disband the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and hold elections within six months. The move is a strike at Hamas, since the chairman of the Council, who is a Hamas member, would replace Mahmoud Abbas in the event of his death or absence. However, the Council does not function and the PA’s decision to disband it is not considered legal (the PA’s Basic Law does not permit Mahmoud Abbas to disband the Council).
The “return march” of December 21, 2018
- As they have every week, senior Hamas figures attended the march, among them Fathi Hamad, a member of Hamas’ political bureau, Ahmed Bahar, deputy chairman of the Legislative Council, Khalil al-Haya, a member of Hamas’ political bureau, and others. Speakers continued to stress that the marches would continue until they had “achieved their objectives.”
Right: Fathi Hamad gives a speech in eastern Jabalia. Left: Ahmed Bahar gives a speech in eastern al-Bureij (Facebook page of the PLC in the Gaza Strip, December 21, 2018).
- Because of the increased violence the number of fatalities among the rioters was higher than in previous weeks. The spokesman for the ministry of health in the Gaza Strip reported that during “return march” events three demonstrators were killed and 40 wounded (Ashraf al-Qidra’s Twitter account, December 21, 2018). On December 22, 2018, the death of a fourth demonstrator was reported (Ashraf al-Qidra’s Twitter account, December 22, 2018). Two of those killed were Fatah operatives.
- After the death of four Palestinians, the military wings of the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip sent a warning to Israel. The joint operations room of the military wings, headed by Hamas, met to discuss the issue. They announced that next Friday, December 28, 2018, would be “a critical test for the conduct of the occupation and its intentions.” The joint operations room, according to the announcement, had prepared responses whose nature, timing and form would be determined by developments on the ground. According to the announcement, if many Palestinians are wounded during the demonstrations they will react strongly against Israel (Hamas military wing website, December 23, 2018).
- Senior Hamas figures also related to the high level of violence this past Friday and the fatalities resulting from it:
- Isma’il Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, gave a speech at the funeral of one of the Palestinians killed. He said Hamas had appealed to mediators to deal with Israel’s “aggressive measures” (Palinfo, December 22, 2018).
- Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum condemned Israel’s activities against “peaceful demonstrators.” He claimed Israel violated their human rights and international law. He also claimed Israel’s activities were proof that it ignored the understandings of the lull and the lifting of the “siege.” He called for an appeal to mediators and the international community to force Israel to put a stop to its “crimes” against the Palestinian people (Hamas website, December 21, 2018).
- Issam Hamad, responsible for the international relations committee of the Supreme National Authority said that the killing of non-violent demonstrators was a gross violation of the understandings achieved with Egypt to calm the situation in the Gaza Strip. He claimed the Supreme National Authority was committed to quiet and had preserved the non-violent nature of the marches, but Israel (the “occupation”) had raised the level of killing and caused great harm to non-violent demonstrators. He warned that continued delays from Israel in lifting the “siege” would lead to an explosion in the Gaza Strip (al-Andalou News, December 22, 2018).
The press conference (Correspondent Hassan Aslih’s Twitter account, December 22, 2018).
- The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) claimed the killing of non-violent demonstrators was serious escalation, because most of the Palestinians harmed were located at a great distance from the security fence. That showed, the PIJ claimed, “the occupation’s aggressive intention.” According to the PIJ announcement, “Zionist terrorism” would only cause the Palestinians and the “resistance” [terrorist organizations] to increase their firm stance and continue their “resistance” (official PIJ website, December 21, 2018).
- On the afternoon of December 24, 2018, the Palestinians held the 21st mini-flotilla. It consisted of 25 small boats and its slogan was “Our blood – the map of liberation” (Safa, December 24, 2018). At the same time a demonstration was held on the shore in the northern Gaza Strip near the Israeli border. Two unplanned demonstrations were held in the eastern part of Gaza City. Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman for the ministry of health in the Gaza Strip, said that 14 Palestinians were injured during the activities in the northern Gaza Strip (Ashraf al-Qidra’s Facebook page, December 24, 2018).
- Before the mini-flotilla, the Supreme National Authority, which wants to control the events, called on the Palestinians not to hold activities in the “return camp” east of Gaza City. The Authority emphasized that all the activities would be held on the northwestern border near the sea (Filastin al-Yawm, December 23, 2018). Despite the call, dozens of Palestinians gathered to the east of Gaza City and burned tires (Shehab, December 24, 2018). During the events Supreme National Authority spokesmen warned Israel that if it continued to carry out its “crimes,” all the options of the “resistance” were open (al-Aqsa, December 24, 2018).
Palestinians burn tires in the eastern Gaza Strip (Facebook page of the tire-burning group of the al-Zeitoun area, December 24, 2018).
- This past week no rockets or mortar shells were fired at Israeli territory.
Rocket and Mortar Shell Fire During and Between the Recent Rounds of Escalation
Monthly Distribution of Rocket and Mortar Shell Fire since January 2018
Annual Distribution of Rocket Hits
- On December 20, 2018 shots were fired at the Ofra Junction (northeast of Ramallah) from the direction of the village of Ayn Yabrud. Israeli security forces searched the area and found shell casings near the bus stop. The regional alert level was raised. An IDF force shot at a vehicle coming from the direction of Givat Asaf which did not obey calls to halt. The shots killed a Palestinian from east Jerusalem and wounded a passenger. According to the initial investigation, the driver was trying to run over IDF soldiers. No weapons were found in the vehicle. The military police began an investigation of the event.
Other events on the ground
- Israeli security forces continued to carry out counterterrorism activities. Palestinians in Judea and Samaria continued throwing stones at Israeli vehicles. The more prominent events were the following:
- On December 23, 2018, stones were thrown at a vehicle in the region of Deir Nidham (northwest of Ramallah). No casualties were reported. The vehicle was damaged (Rescue Without Borders in Judea and Samaria, December 23, 2018).
- On December 21, 2018, a suspicious Palestinian was detained after he threw stones at cars on the road near the village of Imreiha (west of Jenin). A knife was found in his possession and he was taken for interrogation (IDF spokesman, December 21, 2018).
- On December 21, 2018, following the shooting attacks at the Ofra Junction and at Givat Asaf, in which two IDF soldiers were killed and nine civilians were injured, the Israeli security forces operated in the area around the village of Qobar (al-Bireh region), from where the terrorists left. The Israeli security forces carried out an engineering survey of the houses of the terrorists that will be destroyed (IDF spokesman, December 21, 2018).
Significant terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria during the past year
Economic aid for the Gaza Strip
- UNRWA announced that China had given the agency $2,350,000 in 2018 (Wafa, December 21, 2018).
- Yusuf Ibrahim, deputy minister of welfare in the Gaza Strip, said that on December 24, 2018, economic aid from Qatar would be delivered to 5,000 wounded and the families of Palestinians killed during the “return marches.” In addition, $100 will be given to 50,000 poor Gazan families. He said the date for the distribution of funds would be made public “after all the necessary measures have been taken” (Filastin al-Yawm, December 23, 2018).
Al-Aqsa TV stops broadcasting
- Al-Aqsa TV, owned and operated by Hamas, announced it would stop broadcasting on December 20, 2018, because of financial difficulties (Emad, December 19, 2018). Nevertheless, the channel broadcast as usual after Isma’il Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, said he had decided it would continue to operate (Shehab, December 20, 2018). The channel announced that it would continue its broadcasts after donors had solved some of its financial problems. Note: the al-Aqsa TV building was destroyed in an Israeli Air Force attack during the most recent round of escalation in the Gaza Strip (November 11-13, 2018).
- Senior Iranian figures met with a delegation of members of the Hamas faction of the PLC. The delegation, currently visiting Iran, was headed by Mahmoud al-Zahar. The delegation met with Ali Larijani, the speaker of the Iranian Majlis (parliament). Larijani said the entire world had to pay attention to the Israel’s “crimes” in general and in the Gaza Strip in particular. The delegation also met with Ali Akbar Velayati, advisor to the Iranian supreme leader for international affairs, who said that a firm “resistance” was the only way to avoid Israel’s “plots.” At a meeting with Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, Zarif expressed concern over the disbanding of the PLC (see below), saying it was contrary to the principles of democracy and played into the hands of Israel.
Right: The Hamas delegation meets with Ali Larijani (IRNA in Arabic, December 22, 2018). Left: The Palestinian delegation meets with Iranian foreign minister Zarif (third from right) (Hamas Change and Reform faction Facebook page, December 23, 2018).
Hassan Nasrallah meets with Ziyad al-Nakhalah, PIJ secretary general
- On December 20, 2018, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah met with Ziyad al-Nakhalah, the secretary general, and other senior PIJ figures. Nasrallah praised the organization’s newly-elected leadership. Both sides noted the “jihad connections of brotherhood” of the “resistance movements” [i.e., terrorist organizations] in Lebanon and Palestine, especially between the PIJ and Hezbollah. They discussed the challenges and opportunities for a “resistance” program and the “resistance axis” (Hezbollah’s public relations website, December 20, 2018).
Mahmoud Abbas announces the disbanding of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC)
- At a meeting of the Palestinian leadership, Mahmoud Abbas announced that the PA’s Constitutional Court had decided to disband the PLC and hold elections for a new Council within six months. According to Mahmoud Abbas, the step is the first in the implementation of decisions made by the PLC and the PLO’s Central Council (Palestinian TV, December 22, 2018).
- The move made by Mahmoud Abbas strikes a blow to Hamas, since Aziz Dweik, a member of Hamas and chairman of the PLC, would temporarily replace Mahmoud Abbas in the event of his death or absence (until general elections were held for the position of PA chairman). However, the move is merely symbolic because the PLC has not functioned since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in June 2007. In addition, the decision is not legal because the PA’s Basic Law does not permit Mahmoud Abbas to disband the PLC.
- in response to Mahmoud Abbas’ move, Saeb Erekat, secretary of the PLO’s Executive Committee, said the decision to disband the PLC was in accord with the decisions of the Central Council and the Executive Committee to turn the PA into a state. He said that during the transition phase Mahmoud Abbas would become the president of the state of Palestine and the Executive Committee would become the government and hold elections for the state’s Constituent Assembly (Palestinian TV, December 24, 2018).
- Mahmoud Abbas’ announcement was met with severe criticism from Hamas. Yahya Musa, a PLC member, said Mahmoud Abbas’ decisions were worthless because the Council was sovereign. He said the Council would continue operating in the Gaza Strip, but because of Mahmoud Abbas’ decision it would stop operating in the West Bank (Shabakat Quds Twitter account, December 22, 2018). Other responses were the following:
- Husam Badran, a member of Hamas’ political bureau, said Hamas would formulate a final, official position regarding Mahmoud Abbas’ decision. He said that according to the laws of the Palestinian political system, no individual had the authority to disband the PLC, it could only be done by vote (al-Aqsa TV, December 22, 2018).
- Musheir al-Masri, spokesman for the Hamas faction in the PLC, said Mahmoud Abbas’ term [as PA chairman] had reached its end (al-Mayadeen, December 22, 2018).
- On December 24, 2018, Mahmoud Abbas met in his office in Ramallah with Dr. Hana Nasser, the chairman of the Palestinian central elections committee. They discussed the ruling of the PA’s Constitutional Court to hold elections for the PLC. Nasser said that the central elections committee was prepared to hold elections at any time, in accordance with a presidential edict from Mahmoud Abbas (Palestinian central elections committee Facebook page, December 24, 2018).
Mahmoud Abbas meets in his office in Ramallah with the chairman of the Palestinian central elections committee (Palestinian central elections committee Facebook page, December 24, 2018).
Mahmoud Abbas’ speech at a recent meeting of the Palestinian leadership
- Mahmoud Abbas gave a speech at a recent meeting of the Palestinian leadership where he outlined the activities of the PLO’s Central Council. In addition to the disbanding of the PLC, he mentioned two more areas of its activity (Palestinian TV, December 22, 2018):
- Activity regarding the United States: Mahmoud Abbas said they refused to have a dialog or negotiations with the American administration. That, he said, is because the administration had abandoned its commitments. Therefore, the PA would make intensive political efforts to join many international organizations, alliances and conventions, including those the United States asked the PA not to join. Mahmoud Abbas said that although the PA request to become a full member state had been vetoed, during 2019 the PA would renew its request every month. He said he was proud of have successfully sabotaged the passage of the American proposal for a resolution designating Hamas as a terrorist organization. It had been achieved, he boasted, through the “legal trick” of demanding a two-thirds vote rather than a simple majority.
- Activity regarding Israel: Mahmoud Abbas condemned the Israeli delivery of funds to Hamas. He claimed the Israeli prime minister had personally delivered the money to preserve Hamas’ rule in the Gaza Strip and undermine [the stability of] the West Bank, thereby sabotaging the internal Palestinian reconciliation. Mahmoud Abbas claimed he would reassess all the agreements signed between the PLO and Israel, the first of which would be the Paris protocol.
- The statements made by Mahmoud Abbas, especially those regarding the disbanding of the PLC, were met with support from the Fatah and PA leadership, and condemnation from the Hamas leadership. Fatah spokesman Azzam al-Ahmed said Fatah supported Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to appeal to UN Security Council every month to ask for full membership. As to the Paris protocol, a Fatah spokesman said that they had spoken about the issue with Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and asked him to tell the State of Israel that they were interested in returning to the negotiating table to discuss it. He added that Lieberman refused, allegedly saying he would turn the issue over to the government, but the following week he resigned (Palestinian TV, December 22, 2018). Abbas Zaki, a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, said the disbanding of the PLC provided an opportunity to exit the Oslo Accords (al-Mayadeen, December 23, 2018).
Riyad al-Maliki meets with the Russian foreign minister
- Riyad al-Maliki, PA foreign minister, met with Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister. They held a joint press conference where Riyad al-Maliki noted the ongoing coordination between Russia and the PA to strengthen their relations and increase regional and international political activity. They said economic cooperation had also developed. They said they had also discussed the peace process with Israel and the Russia’s role in it (al-Jazeera, December 21, 2018).
- Abbas Zaki, a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, was interviewed by al-Mayadeen TV. He said the Palestinians thanked Iran for its support of the Palestinian people and stressed that Iran supported the Palestinian cause and not a specific faction (al-Mayadeen TV, December 23, 2018). The PA was quick to issue a denial. An “official source” said that Zaki’s statements were incorrect and did not express the position of the Palestinian leadership, only his own opinion (Wafa, December 24, 2018).
Palestinian public opinion poll
- On December 18, 2018, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research issued an initial analysis of a public opinion poll held between December 12 and 16, 2018. It was conducted among 1270 Palestinians living in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. The results indicated an increase in Hamas’ popularity in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and that support for Fatah remained relatively unchanged. For example, if elections were held today, 29% would vote for Hamas (compared to 21% three months ago) and for Fatah 39% (compared to 38% three months ago). The demand for Abbas’ resignation is 55% in the West Bank and 77% in the Gaza Strip (http://www.pcpsr.org/en/node/738, December 18, 2018).
- Operation Northern Shield continues to locate Hezbollah tunnels. On December 21, 2018, the IDF announced the beginning of the second stage of the operation, which includes the neutralizing and destruction of the tunnels that have been exposed so far. The activity its intended to make the tunnels inoperable and prevent Hezbollah from using them. Neutralizing them is carried out through a variety of methods, according to the nature of the tunnels. On December 21, 2018, the terrorist tunnel dug from the village of Ramyeh that crossed the Israeli border in the central sector of south Lebanon was destroyed with explosives (IDF spokesman, December 21, 2018).
IDF activity near Kafr Kila (Bint Jbeil website, December 25, 2018). Left: IDF forces raise the height of the security fence near the village of Adaysia (across from Israel’s extreme north) (Ali Shoeib’s Twitter account, December 23, 2018).
UN Security Council meeting to discuss IDF activity
- On December 19, 2018, the UN Security Council held a meeting to discuss Operation Northern Shield. The meeting ended without a proposal for a resolution, and without a joint statement from the Security Council members. During the meeting a number of countries (led by the United States) sided with Israel, and also stressed the need for an improvement in UNIFIL effectiveness. Other countries called the construction of the tunnels a violation of Resolution 1701, but claimed Israel consistently violated it. The need for continuing UNIFIL activity was also stressed, as well as the need for a comprehensive investigation of the activities of UNIFIL and the Lebanese army on the northern side of the border.
- Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefed the Security Council this morning on the recent developments in Operation Northern Shield, saying the UN confirmed the existence of four tunnels, adding that at least two of these tunnels cross the Blue Line and constitute a violation of Resolution 1701. He said UNIFIL had requested the Lebanese authorities to work with the Mission to identify and disable any tunnels crossing the Blue Line from Lebanon (UN website, December 19, 2018). Amal Mudallali, Lebanese representative to the UN, claimed Israel’s activities were a source of worry for the Lebanese people and that Israel’s activities in recent years had undermined Lebanon’s stability. She confirmed Lebanon’s commitment to Resolution 1701 and claimed Israel violated it, giving examples of alleged Israeli incursions into Lebanese airspace (u-news.net, December 19, 2018)
- The Lebanese media and Hezbollah continue to maintain a low profile when dealing with IDF activities, with the exception of informative reports. Na’im Qassem, Hezbollah deputy secretary general, during a memorial service commemorating the third anniversary of the death of Samir Kuntar, said Israel had violated Lebanon’s airspace 150 times during the past month. He asked where the Security Council and the United States had been, and where the justice was that everyone was talking about. He said Israel could do what it liked because the United States and the other powers were on its side, but the “resistance” would not permit that. He said the only solution against Israel was the “resistance” [i.e., terrorism] (al-Nashra, December 20, 2018).
 The statistics of the launching of rockets and mortar shells are according to the IDF spokesman's assessment. ↑
 A significant attack is defined by the ITIC as involving shooting, stabbing, a vehicular attack, the use of IEDs, or a combination of the above. Stones and Molotov cocktails thrown by Palestinians are not included. ↑
 The Paris protocol is an agreement dealing with the economic relations between Israel and the PA. It was signed in May 1994 and is part of the Oslo Accords. The PA has recently threatened to renege on the agreement. ↑
 Samir Kuntar was a notorious Lebanese Druze terrorist operative who participated in a Palestinian terrorist attack in the northern city of Nahariya in 1979. Danny Haran and his daughter Einat were murdered; two Israeli policemen were also killed in the attack. Kuntar was released from an Israeli prison on July 16, 2008, in return for the bodies of IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. He was killed in an aerial strike on a building in Jaramana, near Damascus, on December 19, 2015. ↑