Khalil al-Haya at the "return march" (popular resistance movement Twitter account, December 28, 2018).
The site of the vehicular attack (Kafr Qalil website, December 26, 2018).
Mohammad Javad Zarif meets with Ziyad al-Nakhalah (Fars News Agency in Arabic, December 30, 2018).
The PIJ delegation headed by Ziyad al-Nakhalah meets with Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran (Ali Khamenei's website, December 31, 2018).
PIJ secretary general Ziyad al-Nakhalah interviewed by the Iranian al-Alam TV channel (al-Alam TV website, December 30, 2018).
An al-Araby TV reporter standing in front of the High Court council building in Ramallah reports on the sentencing of Issam Aqel (al-Araby TV, December 31, 2018).
IDF forces neutralize a Hezbollah tunnel on the Lebanese border (IDF spokesman, December 27, 2018).
- In the Gaza Strip there was a decrease in the number of participants at the events of the “return march” (the 40th) on Friday, December 28, 2018, compared with the previous week. One Palestinian was killed. The following day (December 29, 2018) a rocket was fired into Israeli territory, carrying out the terrorist organizations’ threat to Israel. In response the Israeli Air Force attacked a Hamas post in the southern Gaza Strip.
- In 2018 about 1,130 rocket and mortar shell hits were identified in Israeli territory, almost all of them since May 2018. The rocket fire is a function of the violence of the “return marches” which began on March 30, 2018. Its scope is the largest since 2008 (with the exception of Operation Protective Edge in 2014).
- This past week there was a vehicular attack in Samaria (no casualties were reported). It brought the number of significant terrorist attacks in December to nine, the highest in 2018. The high number of terrorist attacks was the peak of the escalation that began about three months ago. Most of the attacks were carried out by “lone wolf” terrorists as part of popular terrorism, but it is also possible that there is an organized squad (or squads) operating on the ground, responsible for the shooting attacks.
- A Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) delegation headed by its leader Ziyad al-Nakhalah visited Iran and met with the Iranian leadership. Senior Iranian figures stressed their support for the “resistance” [i.e. terrorist] organizations as a fundamental principle of Iranian foreign policy. Al-Nakhalah said that Tel Aviv and all the other cities in Israel were within range of the rockets of the “resistance,” so that if a new confrontation broke out, “all the cities would come under fire.” He also expressed confidence that the various organizations would coordinate against Israel from the Gaza Strip as well as from the north and the center.
The “return marches”
- On December 28, 2018, the 40th “return march” was held with the theme “We will not bargain with our right to live with respect.” The stormy weather kept many people home, with the result that about 5,500 Palestinians participated in the events (about 8,000 last week). Because of the weather no activities were held in the “return camp” in eastern Jabalia, so events were held only at four locations. The spokesman for the ministry of health in the Gaza Strip reported that during the “return march” one Palestinian was killed and six wounded (Ashraf al-Qidra’s Facebook page, December 28, 2018).
- During the events the launching of incendiary balloons and balloons with attached IEDs was renewed (after a pause of about six weeks). A cluster of balloons with an attached IED landed near a kindergarten in one of the Israeli communities in the western Negev. An incendiary balloon also landed in an open area. In addition, IDF forces detained a Palestinian who crossed the security fence into Israeli territory from the northern Gaza Strip (IDF spokesman Twitter account, December 28, 2018).
- After the “return march” activities the Supreme National Authority of the Great Return March said the marches would continue in full force. It also said that after intensive consultations, and to send messages to Israel, the Authority planned to use “new struggle options.” Their objective is a determined confrontation against Israel because Israel uses delaying tactics “to waste time.” The Authority called on Palestinians to participate in the January 4, 2019 “return march,” whose theme will be “Friday of opposition to normalization” [of relations with Israel] (Supreme National Authority Facebook page, December 28, 2018).
- As they have every week, senior Hamas figures attended the “return march” activities, among them Ahmed Bahar, deputy chairman of the Legislative Council, Khalil al-Haya, a member of Hamas’ political bureau, and others. Spokesmen stressed that Israel had to implement its side of the agreements to break the “siege” on the Gaza Strip. Many spokesmen stressed the public turnout despite the stormy weather. Some of the statements were the following:
- Khalil al-Haya, a member of Hamas’ political bureau, said that Israel was “under examination by the resistance organizations in the Gaza Strip.” The negotiators, he said, were also being examined for their ability to restrain Israel and implement the understandings agreed on for breaking the “siege” (Filastin al-Yawm, December 29, 2018).
Khalil al-Haya at the “return march” (popular resistance movement Twitter account, December 28, 2018).
- Ahmed Bahar, deputy chairman of the Legislative Council, speaking at the “return camp” in eastern Khan Yunis, said the “return marches” would continue until the end of the “siege.” He said the “resistance” would respond strongly to every violation of the “lull” or to any act of aggression against the civilians at the “return marches.” He called for the continuation of activity against the “occupation” in the cities of the West Bank alongside the “return marches” (Dunia al-Watan, December 28, 2018).
Ahmed Bahar speaking in eastern Khan Yunis (Supreme National Authority website, December 28, 2018).
- The PIJ’s information bureau praised the public turnout at the “return march” despite the stormy weather and despite the threats of the “occupation.” That proved, according to the bureau, the confidence of the Palestinians in the “resistance,” and their determination to continue the struggle “until the return and liberation” (PIJ website, December 28, 2018).
- On December 29, 2018, the Supreme National Authority announced the postponement of the weekly mini-flotilla that was supposed to take place on December 31, 2018, because of the stormy weather (Supreme National Authority Facebook page, December 29, 2018). However, dozens of Palestinians burned tires near the Karni Crossing. One rioter was injured (Fateh Gaza, December 31, 2018).
Government employment for “return march” wounded
- Ahmed al-Kurd, a member of the Hamas leadership and chairman of the committee for the wounded of the “return marches,” said that at the beginning of the new year all those who had lost limbs, the power of speech or had been blinded would receive government employment. He said that initially the employment would be temporary and after a certain period would become permanent. He said that the wounded had to have their basic needs met (Dunia al-Watan, December 30, 2018).
- On December 29, 2018, a rocket hit was identified in Israeli territory. The rocket landed in the western Negev. No casualties or damage were reported. It was the first rocket launched since the end of the most recent round of escalation, November 11 to 13, 2018. Palestinian sources reported the launching but not who was responsible for it (Shabakat Quds, December 29, 2018). In view of the deaths of four rioters during the previous week, the military wings of the terrorist organizations issued veiled threats that this past Friday would be “the final test for the conduct and intentions of the occupation” (Hamas military wing’s website, December 23, 2018).
- In response to the rocket fire an IDF helicopter attacked a Hamas post in the southern Gaza Strip (IDF spokesman’s Twitter account, December 28, 2018). The Palestinian media reported that a helicopter attacked and destroyed a post east of Deir al-Balah (central Gaza Strip). No casualties were reported (Paldf, Wafa, December 29, 2018).
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
Vehicular attack in Samaria
- On December 26, 2018, a Palestinian driving from the direction of Nablus tried to run over civilians and the soldiers securing a bus stop. The soldiers shot and wounded the terrorist (IDF Twitter account, December 26, 2018). The Palestinian media reported that driver was Ra’ed Omar Dhiab, 35, from Kafr Qalil, south of Nablus (Wafa, December 26, 2018).
Other events on the ground
- The search for the terrorist who carried out the shooting attack at Givat Asaf continues, and suspects were detained in local villages (IDF spokesman, December 31, 2018). In the meantime, Israeli security forces carried out counterterrorism activities throughout Judea and Samaria, detaining Palestinians suspected of terrorist activity and seizing weapons. Palestinians continued throwing stones at Israeli vehicles. No casualties or damage to vehicles were reported The more prominent events were the following:
- On December 31, 2018, during a search for illegal weapons in the village of Yatta, south of Hebron, the Israeli security forces seized an M-16 assault rifle and ammunition. Improvised weapons were found in the Nablus region (IDF spokesman’s Twitter account, December 31, 2018).
- On December 28, 2018, Palestinians threw Molotov cocktails at an Israeli vehicle near the village of Azoun, east of Qalqilya. No casualties were reported (Red Alert Facebook page, December 28, 2018).
- On December 26, 2018, during IDF security force searches in the Askar refugee camp, on the outskirts of Nablus, funds for terrorist activities were found (IDF spokesman’s Twitter account, December 26, 2018).
Significant terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria during the past year 
Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) delegation visits Iran
- A delegation of senior PIJ figures, headed by secretary general Ziyad al-Nakhalah, paid an official visit to Iran. They met with Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister. Zarif told them that Iran would always support the Palestinians as one of the fundamental principles of Iranian foreign policy. Al-Nakhalah said the “resistance” was stronger than in the past, as could be seen by the “return marches” and the failure of Israel’s last “aggression,” in the wake of which, he claimed, early elections had been called in Israel. He said the Palestinians were more determined today than ever to continue the path of “resistance” to victory (IRNA in Arabic, December 29, 2018).
- The delegation held other meetings:
- On December 30, 2018, the PIJ delegation met with Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme Council for National Security. Shamkhani stressed that the continuing Iranian support for the “Palestinian resistance” would be one of the fundamental principles of Iranian foreign policy until the victory of the “resistance” (IRNA, December 30, 2018).
Ali Shamkhani meets with the PIJ delegation (mojnews.com, December 30, 2018).
- On December 31, 2018, the delegation met with Ali Khamenei, the Iranian supreme leader. Khamenei spoke about the clear Palestinian equation, according to which if the Palestinians “resisted” [i.e., carried out acts of terrorism] they would be victorious, and if they did not “resist” they would lose. He reviewed the developments in “Palestine,” saying that the residents of the Gaza Strip, despite the pressures exerted on them, were working against the “Zionist entity” and the “deal of the century.” The best example of that, he said, was the “return marches” every Friday. He praised the last victory of the “resistance” over the “Zionist entity,” which, he claimed, was a request for a ceasefire after 48 hours. He said that the capabilities and strength of the “resistance” were stronger now than every before, so that if a war broke out, Tel Aviv and all the other cities would be within range of the “resistance” rockets (IRNA in Arabic, December 31, 2018).
The PIJ delegation headed by Ziyad al-Nakhalah meets with Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran (Ali Khamenei’s website, December 31, 2018).
- Interviewed by the Iranian al-Alam TV channel, Ziyad al-Nakhalah claimed the “resistance” was preparing “surprises” for Israel for future confrontations. Regarding previous escalations, he said that if they [the Israelis] had continued all the cities in Israel would have come under fire. He added that the “resistance” was capable of defending the Palestinians. He said, ” We will come after them from below the ground and above the ground, the Zionists can expect us to come everywhere, military posts and civilian sites.”
- Ziyad al-Nakhalah also claimed that Hezbollah, the PIJ, Hamas and all the forces of the “resistance” axis were in constant communication and had a common view of the Zionists. They had, he claimed, open lines of ongoing coordination without limitations or caveats. Therefore, in any future campaign, “the entire resistance axis will fight in the north, the south and the center…today the resistance axis is one axis and one body against Israel” (al-Alam TV website, December 30, 2018).
Isma’il Haniyeh expected to visit Moscow
- On December 28, 2018, Mikhail Bogdanov, the deputy Russian foreign minister, reported that Isma’il Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, would come to Russia for an official visit on January 15, 2019, for talks with Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister. He said they would discuss the situation in the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian arrangement, the situation in the [Palestinian] territories, especially the Gaza Strip, and the restoration of Palestinian unity (TASS, December 28, 2018). Haniyeh received an official invitation to visit Moscow on November 28, 2018, during a meeting with Haidar Rashid, the Russian ambassador to the PA (Hamas website, November 28, 2018).
Events held marking the founding of the Fatah movement
- On January 1, 2019, the PA marked the 54th anniversary of the founding of the Hamas movement with a series of events in Judea and Samaria. Mahmoud Abbas gave two speeches:
- At a ceremony held at the grave of Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas repeated his objection to the “deal of the century,” which he called a “conspiracy.” He said Jerusalem was not “for sale” and that it would remain the eternal capital of “Palestine.” He also said they would not let the Americans “sell” it to Israel.
- At a speech he gave in his office in Ramallah, Mahmoud Abbas accused the United States of having a clear bias in favor of Israel and said the Americans would not prevent the Palestinians from realizing their rights. He said one of those rights was east Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state. He accused Israel of the “crimes” of incursions, detentions and economic strangulation. He threatened that those “crimes” would only serve to widen the circle of violence and extremism. He said the Palestinians would continue to join international organizations and conventions, and that they would actively take steps to move from an authority to a state (Palestinian TV, December 31, 2018).
- In the Gaza Strip, Hamas’ security forces used violence to restrain the events for the anniversary of Fatah’s establishment (held in the Square of the Unknown Soldier in Gaza City). Before the events the security forces detained a number of Fatah activists to deter and warn them. According to Fatah spokesman ‘Ataf Abu Sayif, the Hamas security forces raided the houses of hundreds of Fatah activists. They also threatened owners of printing shops, warning them not to print notices about the event (Wafa, December 31, 2018). Mahmoud al-‘Alul, deputy Fatah chairman, said Hamas’ acts harmed the efforts for an internal Palestinian reconciliation (Palestinian TV, December 30, 2018). On the other hand, Iyad al-Bazam, spokesman for the ministry of the interior in the Gaza Strip, claimed Hamas was not holding Fatah detainees and called on Fatah activists to stop attacking the security forces in the Gaza Strip (website the ministry of the interior, December 31, 2018).
PA activity in the international arena
- Riyad al-Maliki, Palestinian foreign minister, said that during a visit to New York during the second half of January 2019 he would request that the UN Security Council accept “Palestine” as a full member state; those were instructions he had received from Mahmoud Abbas. He said asking for full membership required consultations and contacts with the members of the Security Council beforehand to ensure that the request was supported by at least nine Council members. After that, he said, they would face the American veto. According to al-Maliki, if the necessary nine votes were not obtained, they would not bring the request before the Security Council. He also said that Mahmoud Abbas had given instructions that the request had to be presented again and again (Palestinian TV’s Facebook page, December 26, 2018).
Conviction of Issam Aqel
- On December 31, 2018, the High Offenses Court in Ramallah convicted Issam Aqel (referred to as IA in the conviction) and sentenced him to life imprisonment with hard labor. His crime was “the transfer of Palestinian lands to a foreign country” [i.e., selling lands to Jews] (website of the PA High Court, December 31, 2018). Issam Aqel, who lives in east Jerusalem and also holds American citizenship, was detained by the PA two months ago while in Ramallah. According to the Palestinian media, after he was detained Israel tried to exert pressure on the PA to release him, including by detaining the PA governor of Jerusalem, preventing him from entering PA territory, and by detaining dozens of residents of east Jerusalem affiliated with the Palestinian security services. Palestinian commentators claimed the conviction of Issam Aqel was intended to send a clear message to Israel that anyone who sold Palestinian land to Israelis would be severely punished (al-Araby TV, December 31, 2018).
Right: An al-Araby TV reporter standing in front of the High Court council building in Ramallah reports on the sentencing of Issam Aqel (al-Araby TV, December 31, 2018). Left: Issam Aqel (Watan TV, November 28, 2018).
- On December 26, 2018, the IDF exploded the fifth Hezbollah terrorist tunnel, which had been located a few days previously near the south Lebanese village of Ayta al-Shab (east of the Israeli community of Zar’it). Before the detonation the IDF called on the residents to evacuate the village (IDF spokesman, December 26, 2018). On December 27, 2018, the IDF spokesman reported it had neutralized and destroyed the attack tunnels that had crossed the border from the region of Kafr Kila in south Lebanon into Israeli territory. The tunnels had been neutralized a number of days previously in a variety of ways, from explosions to the introduction of substances such as water, bentonite and concrete (IDF spokesman, December 27, 2018).
- According to the IDF spokesman, a flow of material was seen exiting a civilian structure in Kafr Kila where one of the tunnel shafts was located. The material had been introduced from the Israeli side of the border to neutralize the tunnel. A flow of material was also seen exiting the concrete block plant which the IDF had indicated the presence of another tunnel shaft. According to the IDF, “that shows the Hezbollah’s of civilian structures in the heart of a built-up area in Lebanon, a serious violation of Resolution 1701, endangering civilians” (IDF spokesman, December 27, 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, a vehicular attack, the use of IEDs, or a combination of the above. Stones and Molotov cocktails thrown by Palestinians are not included. ↑
 A substance which expands when mixed with water. It is used as a sealant, among other things. ↑
 For further information, see the December 31, 2018, bulletin, "Operation Northern Shield for locating and neutralizing Hezbollah tunnels on Israel’s northern border (December 30, 2018 Update)." ↑