A picture from a video posted to the Facebook page of the Sons of al-Zawari unit in eastern Khan Yunis. They wrote that they were continuing to launch incendiary and IED balloons into the "occupied lands."
The incendiary device attached to the balloons (Facebook page of the Sons of al-Zawari unit in eastern Khan Yunis, January 17 and 18, 2020).
Preparing gas for inflating balloons (Facebook page of the Sons of al-Zawari unit in Khan Yunis, January 18, 2020).
A cluster of IED balloons neutralized in Sderot (Israel Police Force spokesman's unit, January 20, 2020).
Launching EID balloons from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory (Ghaza al-An, January 17, 2020).
A balloon cluster that exploded in an open area in the western Negev (Israel Police Force spokesman's unit, January 16, 2020).
Isma'il Haniyeh meets with the Malaysian defense minister (extreme left) (Hamas website, January 19, 2020).
Isma'il Haniyeh meets with the Malaysian defense minister (extreme left) (Hamas website, January 19, 2020).
- This past week the security situation in the Gaza Strip heated up with the renewal of IED balloon launchings into Israeli territory, on almost a daily basis. Several balloon clusters fell in the southern Israeli cites of Sderot and Ashdod, and near Beit Shemesh. Other clusters landed in Israeli communities in the western Negev. No casualties or damage were reported.
- In ITIC assessment Hamas is behind the renewal of IED balloon launchings. Its intention is to exert pressure on Israel because of what it refers to as Israel’s “making difficulties” which prevent the implementation of the lull understandings. Another objective is to send a message to Egypt that the difficulties in Hamas-Egypt relations are liable to have negative consequences for the security situation in the Gaza Strip .
- On January 15, 2020, four rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory. Two were intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial defense system and two fell in open areas. Since the most recent round of escalation (November 2019) 14 rockets have been fired at Israel. In ITIC assessment Hamas does not take steps to put an end to the sporadic rocket fire.
- In Judea and Samaria this past week there were two stabbing attacks, one at the Nablus Gate in the Old City in Jerusalem and the other in Hebron, where an Israeli civilian was wounded. In addition, Muslim worshippers clashed with the Israeli security forces on the Temple Mount after calls to the Palestinian masses to go to the Friday prayers to protest Israel’s conduct at al-Aqsa mosque, the Golden Gate and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.
- Nadav Argaman, head of the Israel Security Agency, said that in 2019 the Israeli security forces had prevented 560 “significant terrorist attacks.” Most of them were shooting attacks, and a few were suicide bombing attacks and abductions.
Renewal of incendiary and IED balloon launching
This past week IED balloon launchings from the Gaza Strip were renewed. During the week clusters of balloons were launched towards Israeli territory on an almost daily basis. Unlike balloon launchings in the past, most of the balloons had IEDs attached to them. Some of the clusters landed in Israeli territory (one reached the Ashdod beach, a distance of about 25 miles from the Gaza Strip). Some of the IEDs exploded. No casualties or damage were reported.
- IDF sources in the Southern Command reported that Hamas directs the operations of the balloon-launching units in the Gaza Strip regarding when and how many balloons are launched. According to the sources, implementing the understandings of the lull arrangement is progressing in accordance with the conclusions reached and Israel has done its part. The sources also said that Israel notified Hamas through Egypt that if Hamas does not prevent the balloon launchings, in the coming days the IDF will be forced to respond (Walla, January 20, 2020).
- Abu Mujahed, in charge of the Sons of al-Zawari balloon-launching unit in Khan Yunis, said that the unit had renewed launching of balloons at the Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip. He claimed it was an “individual decision,” and had not been coordinated with any of the networks in the various Gaza Strip districts. He claimed the decision to renew the balloon launchings had been made because of “Israel’s delays” in implementing the lull understandings. He threatened that if Israel did not show commitment to the understandings, in the near future the launchings would increase and would be coordinated in the various regions (al-Andalou News, January 18, 2020). Abu Hamzeh, spokesman for the Sons of al-Zawari unit, said that if no progress was made in the lull, in addition to launching balloons, the Night Harassment and tire-burning units would renew their activities (al-Quds, January 18, 2020).
- According to reports in the Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar, the renewal of the launching of incendiary and IED balloons is intended to exert pressure on Israel because of the alleged difficulties Israel was making in implementing the lull understandings. Al-Akhbar claimed that many understandings related to improving living conditions in the Gaza Strip had been rejected by Israel, among them supplying the power plant with gas, increasing the amount of electricity imported into the Gaza Strip, and finding a “sustainable economic alternative” to the money from Qatar. Hamas insists that “Israel’s delays cannot be passed over in silence, and that the lull in the Gaza Strip will not be given [to Israel] for free” (al-Akhbar, January 18, 2020).
Notable IED balloon attacks
- The following are some of the incidents:
- January 20, 2020: A balloon cluster with explosives landed in the southern Israeli city of Sderot. A police demolitions expert was called to the site to examine the explosive device. Another balloon cluster was found in an open area near Beit Shemesh (Israel Police Force spokesman’s unit, January 20, 2020).
- January 19, 2020: Several balloon clusters exploded in the western Negev and near the shore of the southern coastal city of Ashqelon.
- January 18, 2020: A balloon cluster was found in a public playground in Sderot. A demolitions expert detonated the small IED attached to the balloons. During the day other balloon launchings from the Gaza Strip were sighted. Some of them exploded in the air and others landed in open areas (Ynet, January 18, 2020).
- January 17, 2020: A balloon cluster with a small IED attached to it was found on the Ashdod shore. The IED was neutralized by a police demolitions expert (Ynet, January 17, 2020).
- January 16, 2020: Balloons with IEDs attached to them were found in an open area in the western Negev. Demolitions experts were called in to detonate them. No casualties or damage were reported. In response IDF helicopters attacked an underground Hamas facility in the northern Gaza Strip.
- January 15, 2020: A balloon was found in the city of Sderot with an attached pipe suspected of being an IED. Police demolitions experts were called to the site (Lachish police spokesman’s unit, January 15, 2020).
The return marches
- The Supreme National Authority of the Great Return March reported that preparations were being made for events marking the second anniversary of the first return march (March 30, 2018). The Supreme National Authority also reported that attempts were being made to expand the marches in the near future to Judea and Samaria, the Palestinian refugee camps and the Palestinian dispersal. Maher Mazhar, a Supreme National Authority member, denied that a decision had been made to change the character of the marches because of political understandings reached with Israel (al-Andalou News, January 14, 2020).
The lull arrangement
- Senior Hamas figures continue denying claims about signing a long-term lull agreement with Israel. Mahmoud al-Zahar said Hamas had no interest in a long-term agreement. He stressed that such claims were false and that Israel itself would not comply with them (Filastin al-Yawm, January 13, 2020). Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said that no talks were being held about a lull between Hamas and Israel but that there were steps Israel had to carry out to “lift the siege” on the Gaza Strip (Dunia al-Watan, January 14. 2020).
Rocket and mortar shell fire into Israel
- On the afternoon of January 15, 2020, four rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory. Two were intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial defense system and the other two fell in open areas. No casualties or damage were reported. No organization claimed responsibility for the rocket fire. Since November 18, 2019 (the end of the most recent round of escalation), 14 rockets have been fired at Israel. An article in al-Akhbar quoted a “source” in the Gaza Strip claiming that the rocket fire and incendiary balloons show that the organizations in the Gaza Strip had decided on an escalation [allegedly] because of “Israel’s delays in implementing the lull” (al-Akhbar, January 16, 2020).
- In response to the rocket fire IDF aircraft attacked a number of Hamas terrorist targets in the northern Gaza Strip, among them a site for the manufacture of weapons and a military compound (IDF spokesman, January 15, 2020). Sources in the Gaza Strip reported that among the targets attacked were a Hamas military compound in northern Jabalia and a Hamas naval post (Twitter account of Gazan journalist Hassan Aslih, January 15, 2020). No casualties were reported in the attacks. Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said the Israeli attack was a continuation of Israel’s “aggressive policy towards the Gaza Strip” (Hazem Qassem’s Twitter account, January 15, 2020).
Right: Documentation of a rocket launch targeting the Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip (GazaNow YouTube channel, January 15, 2020). Left: IDF attacks in the Gaza Strip (Palinfo Twitter account, January 16, 2020).
Monthly Distribution of Rocket and Mortar Shell Fire
Annual Distribution of Rocket Hits
- On January 18, 2020, there were two stabbing attacks, one in Jerusalem and the other in Hebron:
- Near the Nablus Gate in the Old City a 50-year-old Palestinian woman with a knife threatened Border Police fighters stationed at the site. A civilian passerby and Border Police fighters overcame and detained her (MyNet Jerusalem, January 18, 2020). The Palestinian media reported that she was Suzanne al-Mubidh, 50, from Abu Dis (Paldf Twitter account, January 18, 2020).
- On Worshippers Way in Hebron a Palestinian armed with a knife stabbed and severely wounded an Israeli from Jerusalem. A civilian passerby and IDF soldiers detained the stabber and he was taken for interrogation. The wounded man was evacuated to a hospital (IDF Twitter account, January 18, 2020). According to reports the Palestinian terrorist was Qasi Ashaq Abu Hata, 17 or 18 years old, from the Jabber neighborhood of the Old City of Hebron (Wafa, January 18, 2020; Twitter account of Boabat al-Hadaf, January 18, 2020).
Right: The scene of the stabbing attack in Hebron. Left: Evacuating the victim of the stabbing attack to a hospital (al-Araby al-Jadeed, January 18, 2020).
Other events on the ground
- In Judea and Samaria Palestinians continued throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli security forces and civilian targets The more prominent events were the following:
- January 20, 2020 – Stones were thrown at an Israeli vehicle near Tekoa (Gush Etzion). A stone that shattered the front windshield of the vehicle also wounded the driver and his daughter. The driver lost control of the vehicle but did not crash the car (Rescue Without Borders, January 20, 2020).
- January 19, 2020 – During an Israeli security force activity in Beit Fajjar (south of Bethlehem) weapons were found (Israel Police Force, January 19, 2020).
- January 19, 2020 – During searches in the Nablus area IDF soldiers found a flare and a fragmentation grenade. Demolitions experts were sent to the site (IDF spokesman’s Twitter account, Haniyeh 19, 2020).
- January 16, 2020 – An explosion was heard near an IDF post on the Gush Etzion-Hebron road near Bayt Umar. Apparently an IED had exploded. No casualties were reported (Rescue Without Borders in Judea and Samaria, January 16, 2020).
- January 16, 2020 – Stones were thrown at an Israeli vehicle on a road northwest of Ramallah. No casualties were reported. The front windshield of the vehicle was damaged (Rescue Without Borders in Judea and Samaria, January 16, 2020).
- January 15, 2020 – Molotov cocktails were thrown at an Israeli bus east of Gush Etzion. No casualties or damage were reported (Rescue Without Borders in Judea and Samaria, January 15, 2020).
- January 15, 2020 – Stones were thrown at an Israeli bus on the Gush Etzion-Hebron road near Halhul. No casualties were reported. The bus was damaged (Rescue Without Borders in Judea and Samaria, January 15, 2020).
Significant terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria since January 2019
Clashes on the Temple Mount
- On January 17, 2020, thousands of worshippers participated in the morning prayer in al-Aqsa mosque. After the prayer some of them chanted nationalist slogans and clashed with Israeli security forces. Before the event calls were issued for the Palestinian masses to go to the Friday prayers to protest Israel’s [alleged] attacks on al-Aqsa mosque, the Golden Gate and the Cave of the Patriarchs. In the wake of the riots on the Temple Mount the Israel Police Force decided to issue a restraining order for Sheikh Ikrima Sabri to keep him from the Temple Mount for a week, with the possibility of extending it. Sheikh Sabri delivers sermons at the mosque and is chairman of the Supreme Islamic Authority. In response Sheikh Sabri claimed Israel was trying to take control of al-Aqsa mosque and feared all Palestinian and Islamic presence at the site (QudsN, January 19, 2020).
- The PA’s foreign ministry condemned the IDF forces’ “invading” the area in front of al-Aqsa mosque and their [alleged] attack on the worshippers. He called it “a deliberate, provocative escalation,” both illegal and unjust (Wafa, January 17, 2020). Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem condemned the activity of the Israeli security forces and called it “a clear violation of humanitarian rules” dealing with worshippers (Hazem Qassem’s Twitter account, January 17, 2020).
Right: Worshippers arrive at al-Aqsa mosque for the morning prayer (QudsN Facebook page, January 17, 2020). Left: Sheikh Ikrima Sabri receives a restraining order (QudsN, January 19, 2020).
Israeli security force counterterrorism activities
- As part of Israeli security force counterterrorism activities, in recent weeks extensive searches were carried out for weapons, yielding. 13 handguns, 25 improvised Carlo submachine guns, two M16 assault rifles and ammunition. In addition five workshops for the manufacture of weapons were raided and hundreds of thousands of shekels, intended for the funding of terrorist activities, were confiscated (IDF spokesman, January 20, 2020).
Some of the weapons found in recent weeks by the Israeli security forces
(IDF spokesman, January 21, 2020).
- Nadav Argaman, head of the Israel Security Agency, said that during the past year the Israel Security Agency prevented 560 significant terrorist attacks, among them ten suicide bombing attacks, four planned abductions and more than 300 shooting attacks (Israeli media, January 20, 2020).
Money from Qatar
- A Qatari representative was supposed to arrive in the Gaza Strip on January 21, 2020. Palestinian sources reported that the Qatari donation of funds for needy families, distributed so far to 100,000 families, would be extended to 25,000 more families. It was also reported that the decision to increase the number of recipient families has not yet been transmitted to the official distribution offices in the Gaza Strip, and that they will be updated in the near future (Filastin al-Yawm, January 13, 2018).
Distribution of money from Iran to the families of Palestinians killed in the second intifada
- The al-Nassar Charitable Association (affiliated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad) announced to the residents of the Gaza Strip, in its own name and in the name of Iran’s Palestine Shaheed Institute, the distribution of funds to the families of Palestinians killed in the second intifada (the so-called “Jerusalem intifada”). According to the announcement, only one representative from each family is to go to the offices of the al-Nassar Charitable Association between January 19 and 27, 2020, to receive the money (al-Nassar Charitable Association in the Gaza Strip Facebook page, January 16, 2018). In response to questions from Internet surfers about the distribution of funds to the families of Palestinians killed in Operation Protective Edge, the association said that the distribution to those families would be made “in the near future, if Allah so wills it,” and stressed that the funds would be distributed only to the families of Palestinians who had been killed, not wounded (Facebook page of the al-Nassar Charitable Association in the Gaza Strip, January 16, 2018).
UN representative visits the Gaza Strip
- Jamie McGoldrick, deputy UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, arrived in the Gaza Strip to monitor the UN projects and discuss developments in the lull with senior Hamas figures (Ma’an, Wafa 15, 2020). The recent rocket fire from the Gaza Strip was carried out during his visit (Ma’an, January 15, 2020).
- An article in the Hezbollah-affiliated al-Akhbar quoted “a source” in the Gaza Strip who reported that Hamas-Egypt relations were at an all-time low, following the visit to Iran of the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) delegations to attend the funeral held for Qassem Soleimani. According to the article, Egypt stopped gas deliveries to the Gaza Strip for several days because it wanted to raise the price and impose taxes on other items. In addition, the visit of the Egyptian security delegation to the Gaza Strip which was supposed to deal with those issues was canceled (al-Akhbar, January 16, 2020). After a week without gas it was reported that Egypt would renew delivery to the Gaza Strip (Filastin al-Yawm, January 16, 2020).
- A Hamas delegation headed by Rawhi Mushtaha, a member of Hamas’ political bureau, met in the offices of the PIJ in the Gaza Strip with senior PIJ figures who had returned to the Gaza Strip after visits to several countries abroad. Both sides stressed the depth of their relations and the need to continue developing them to deal with coming challenges. After the meeting Nafez Azzam, a member of PIJ’s political bureau, stressed the need to continue joint operations to achieve the national objectives and continue the “resistance” [i.e., terrorist attacks against Israel] (Filastin al-Yawm, January 14,2020).
The meeting of the Hamas and PIJ leaderships
(PIJ website, January 14, 2020).
Hamas leader meets with Malaysian defense minister
- On January 19, 2020, Isma’il Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, met with the Malaysian defense minister, who was visiting Qatar. Haniyeh praised Malaysia’s position on the Palestinian cause and its role in easing the “siege” on the Gaza Strip by sending many delegations to visit (Hamas website, January 19, 2020).
Isma’il Haniyeh meets with the Malaysian defense minister (extreme left)
(Hamas website, January 19, 2020).
Agreement for electricity from Jordan
- The electric company in east Jerusalem and the Jordanian national electric company signed an agreement in Amman for raising the supply of electricity to the PA territories from Jordan by reinforcing the connections of the electric grids between Jordan and the PA territories. As a result of the agreement the amount of electricity delivered to the PA territories will increase from 26 megawatts to 80 megawatts (Wafa, January 15, 2020).
PA activity in the international arena
The UN Security Council and General Assembly
- Riyad Mansour, the PA representative to the UN, sent a communiqué to the current president of UN Security Council, the president of the General Assembly and the Secretary General in which he accused Israel of continuing its overt actions to annex parts of the West Bank. He stressed that if Israel is not blocked it will continue, destroying any possibility of implementing a peaceful solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He called on the international community to take every legal measure to prevent Israel from annexing West Bank territories (Wafa, Ma’an, January 14, 2020).
- Ahmed al-Dayak, advisor to the foreign minister in the PA government, announced that the PA had presented UNESCO with a formal request to appoint a new committee to examine the excavations carried out by Israel in the Old City of Jerusalem. He said that he expected Israel would disturb the work of the committee, because the very fact of appointing a committee would exert pressure on Israel (al-Quds, January 15, 2020).
The International Criminal Court
- Muhammad Shalalda, PA minister of justice, said that three files had been presented to the ICC for action: the “prisoners file,” the “settlement project file” and the “Operation Protective Edge” file. He claimed the ICC had [allegedly] reached the conclusion that Israel had [allegedly] carried out “war crimes” against Palestinians and had transmitted the issue to a panel of judges for deliberation to advance a trial. He claimed that the next step would be opening an investigation and bringing all the officers and soldiers responsible to trial. He said Israel claimed it had carried out its own investigation after Operation Protective Edge but none of its results were evident on the ground. He also said that they could summon Israelis with dual citizenship to stand trial in courts of European countries where they held citizenship (Ma’an, January 15, 2020)..
Response to the Israeli defense minister’s declaration about nature preserves in Judea and Samaria
- On January 15, 2019, Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett declared seven new nature preserves in Judea and Samaria and the expansion of 12 existing ones. According to security sources, the area involved is about 32,000 acres, most of it national land. It is the first declaration of nature preserves and national parks in Judea and Samaria since the Oslo Accords. The Israeli Civil Administration is supposed to advance the project, after which the nature preserves will be opened to the public by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
- Naftali Bennett’s declaration was protested by the PA, which regards it as a means to take control of Palestinian lands. The PA foreign ministry said it would act to get international opposition to the declaration and would also bring the matter to the attention of the ICC as part of the “settlements file.” The PA foreign ministry accused Bennett of trying to influence the future of Area C by accelerating construction in the settlements and attempting to Judaize religious, legacy and historical sites in the PA. He called on the UN Security Council to take responsibility, in view of the [alleged] “crimes of the settlements,” and to implement UN Security Council Resolution 2334 (Ma’an, January 15, 2020).
PA general elections
- The EU and the Palestinian Central Elections Committee signed an agreement for a project, mainly funded by the EU, to support the Committee to encourage voter turnout in Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip. The cost of the project is €2.1 million, of which the EU will pay €1.5 million (Ma’an, January 16, 2020).
- On the eve of the visit of French President Macron to Ramallah, Suliman al-Harfi, PA representative in France, presented him with an official request for the president and foreign ministry of France to intervene and exert pressu re on Israeli to facilitate the elections in the Palestinian territories, especially in Jerusalem (Filastin al-Yawm, January 17, 2020).
 For further information, see the January 19, 2020 bulletin, "Despite the lull process in the Gaza Strip, sporadic rocket fire into Israeli territory continues, and incendiary balloon and IED terrorism has been renewed as a means of exerting pressure on Israel." ↑
 Worshippers Way in Hebron is a road linking the Israeli community of Kiryat Arba with the Cave of the Patriarchs and with the Jewish community in Hebron. The road is used by Israelis and tourists who visit the Cave and the Old City of Hebron (Wikipedia). ↑
 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. ↑
 UN Security Council Resolution 2334, passed on December 23, 2016, declared that the Israeli settlements in territories occupied in 1967 in the West Bank and east Jerusalem ("the occupied Palestinian territories") were illegal. ↑