Isma'il Haniyeh (third from right) and Khalil al-Haya (extreme left) at the "return camp" in eastern Gaza City (Isma’il Radwan's Facebook page, January 25, 2019).
The PA military-style funeral held for Hamdi al-Naasan (Facebook page of Ramallah district governor Laila Ghanem, January 27, 2019).
The military funeral held for Ayman Hamed. His body was wrapped in the Fatah flag (Facebook page of Ramallah district governor Laila Ghanem, January 26, 2019).
Muhammad al-Amoudi holds a press conference in Gaza (Qatari Committee Facebook page, January 25, 2019).
Muhammad al-Amoudi meets with the Hamas leadership (Palinfo Twitter account, January 24, 2019).
Muhammad al-Amoudi at the UN offices in Jerusalem signs an agreement for financing a project to give jobs to unemployed workers in the Gaza Strip, part of the Qatari aid package for 2019 (Qatari Committee Facebook page, January 27, 2019).
- This past week there was a relatively high level of controlled violence during the Friday “return march.” The violence consisted of throwing stones, hand grenades and IEDs at IDF forces, damaging the security fence and lighting fires near the fence.
- Before the violence there were three incidents that increased tension between Hamas and Israel: one was Palestinian Islamic Jihad sniper fire at IDF forces, carried out under the cover of a gathering of Palestinians near the fence. The second was the difficulty of delivering funds from Qatar to the Gaza Strip: Israel delayed the delivery because of the rise in the level of violence, while Hamas refused to accept the funds because of internal criticism. In the end an arrangement was found to transfer the funds to needy families and to finance an employment project with UN involvement. The third was the riots of Palestinian terrorist prisoners that began in the Ofer jail after searches for smuggled cell phones.
- Hamas spokesmen and Hamas-affiliated media continue threatening to raise the level of violence from the Gaza Strip against Israel. That may include a renewal of the mini-flotillas accompanied by riots; the renewal of launching incendiary kites and balloons; and violent activities near the security fence (confrontations with the IDF, breaking through the fence and destroying the barrier Israel is building). In ITIC assessment, the violence and accompanying threats are Hamas attempts to blackmail Israel for greater economic gestures and measures to end the [so-called] siege of the Gaza Strip.
- On January 29, 2019, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah announced the resignation of his government to Palestinian chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The current government will continue to function until a new government is formed. Muhammad Ashtiya, a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, was mentioned as a possible candidate to replace Rami Hamdallah.
The “return march” of January 25, 2019
- On January 25, 2019, the 44th “return march” was held in the Gaza Strip. Its theme was “The crime of the siege – a plot that will not succeed.” The march was held after a tense week during which Israel refused to enable the transfer of funds from Qatar to the Gaza Strip. Later, when Israel agreed, Hamas refused to accept the funds. Given the tension, at the end of the week the IDF deployed for riots along the Gaza Strip border. In the meantime, behind the scenes political efforts were made to prevent the situation on the ground from deteriorating. Mahmoud Khalaf, a member of the Supreme National Authority of the Great Return March, said Israel’s commitment to the lull understandings achieved through Egyptian mediation would influence the nature of the march (Dunia al-Watan, January 24, 2019).
- About 10,000 Palestinians participated in the Friday activities, gathering at five sites along the security fence. There was a relatively high level of controlled violence, similar to recent Fridays. Rioters burned tires and threw stones, hand grenades and IEDs at IDF forces. Two hand grenades were thrown at an IDF vehicle in the northern Gaza Strip. No casualties or damage were reported. IDF soldiers responded by shooting at Palestinians suspected of throwing grenades (IDF spokesman, January 25, 2019). The Palestinian media reported that dozens of Palestinians had cut through the fence east of the al-Bureij refugee camp and lit fires near it (Filastin al-Yawm, January 15, 2019).
- Ashraf al-Qidra, ministry of health spokesman in the Gaza Strip, reported that one Palestinian had been killed and 22 wounded by IDF gunfire (Ashraf al-Qidra’s Twitter account, January 25, 2019).
Right: Ihab ‘Abed, killed during the march events, in a picture accompanying the death notice issued for him by the “tire [burning] unit – the shaheed Naji Ghanim groups – Rafah district” (tire [burning] unit Facebook page, January 26, 2019). Left: Picture of Ihab ‘Abed throwing stones at IDF forces a short time before his death (Facebook page of photographer Badr al-Najadi, January 25, 2019).
- A large number of senior Hamas figures were present at the marches, among them Isma’il Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, who in recent weeks had been absent from the events. Others included Mahmoud al-Zahar, Khalil al-Haya, Musheir al-Masri and Ahmed Bahar. Senior Hamas figures condemned Israel for stopping the delivery of funds from Qatar, stressing that the marches would continue and threatening to fight Israel.The Supreme National Authority emphasized that the “return marches” would continue as “popular” events, but warned Israel not to continue evading its commitment to lift the “siege” and delaying the implementation of the understandings reached through Egyptian mediation. According to the Authority, Israel’s rejection and blackmail add fuel to the fire and open the door to a new escalation (alresala.net, January 25, 2019). According to the march organizers, the theme of the next Friday march, February 1, 2019, will be “Our prisoners are not alone” (al-Mayadeen, January 25, 2019).
Hamas threatens to escalate the activities in the Gaza Strip
Hamas has apparently decided to escalate the protests. Hamas sources reported the decision to gradually escalate activities along the Gaza Strip border if Israel continued what they called “a denial of the understandings reached with Hamas.” According to the sources, the escalation will begin with a renewal of the mini-flotillas (which have not been held for four weeks). It will continue with an increase in the launching of incendiary kites and balloons and after that there will be direct confrontations at the border, break-throughs along the border and finally, the destruction of the “wall” Israel is building to combat the tunnels. According to the sources, the activities will be carried out in sequence before the elections in Israel, because, they claim, Israel political figures are trying to use the Gaza Strip for election propaganda (al-Hadath, January 28, 2019).
Right: Cartoon of Hamas’ position regarding the continuation of the armed struggle, the “resistance,” in the Gaza Strip. The Arabic reads, “No compromise…Gaza” (Palinfo Twitter account, January 25, 2019). Left: The home page of Hamas’ al-Risalah from January 28, 2019. One of the articles is entitled, “The escalation of the ‘methods’ is the most prominent option on the table of the “return [marches]” (alresala.net Twitter account, January 28, 2019).
- In the meantime, according to reports, the various groups operating within the “return marches” have returned to their routine activities, which includes the “night harassment group” (“the sons of al-Zouari”) (“night harassment group” Facebook page, January 26, 2019). The group stopped its provocative activities after the most recent round of escalation (November 2018). It was also reported that the “Palestinian resistance” (i.e., the terrorist organizations) raised their level of alert and agreed to renew the “popular resistance” [i.e., popular terrorism] with new methods to exert pressure on the Israeli communities and IDF forces near the Gaza Strip (al-Akhbar, January 26, 2019).
- On January 28, 2019, the Supreme National Authority held a press conference to announce that the 22nd protest flotilla would leave from the Gaza Strip on January 29, 2019. It will sail to the furthest northern sea point of the Gaza Strip, near the coast of the southern Israeli city of Ashqelon. A demonstration will be held on the shore at the same time (al-Aqsa TV, January 28, 2019). For a number of weeks the mini-flotillas have not been held, allegedly because of the weather. Note: The mini-flotilla did in fact take place on January 29, 2019.
Hamas hashtag encouraging the launching of incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory, #balloon_of the return” (Palinfo Twitter account, January 28, 2019). Left: Incendiary balloons launched apparently from east of Rafah in retaliation for the death of Ihab ‘Abed, an operative in one of the tire-burning groups in the Rafah district (from a video posted by Abdallah Jamal Abu Wadi’ from the Facebook public group “the shaheed Ahmed Jarar unit – Rafah brigade,” January 26, 2019).
Rocket fire into Israeli territory
- This past week no rocket hits were identified in Israeli territory
Monthly Distribution of Rocket and Mortar Shell Fire since January 2018
Annual Distribution of Rocket Hits
Sniper fire increases tension along the Gaza Strip border
- A series of incidents in the Gaza Strip raised tensions and led to the Israeli decision to delay the transfer of Qatari aid funds to the Gaza Strip. On the afternoon of January 22, 2019, dozens of Palestinians gathered and threw stones at IDF forces near the Gaza Strip border. Under cover of the gathering a sniper shot at the forces and an IDF officer was slightly wounded (the bullet hit his helmet). In response an IDF tank fired at a Hamas observation post in the central Gaza Strip. A Hamas military wing operative was killed and four were wounded (IDF spokesman, January 22, 2019).
- According to the initial analysis of the event, the sniper fire was apparently planned in advance: Palestinian youngsters gathered and threw stones, and an IDF force came to disperse them. When the soldiers got out of their vehicle they were shot at by a sniper. According to the Israeli media, the PIJ was behind the attack (Haaretz, January 23, 2019). It is a familiar modus operandi.
- Later on five Palestinians approached the security fence in the southern Gaza Strip. Two of them crossed the border and immediately returned to the Gaza Strip. Israeli Air Force aircraft attacked a Hamas military camp in the northern Gaza Strip (IDF spokesman, January 22, 2019).
Palestinian killed in a clash with Israeli settlers in the Ramallah region (initial report)
- On January 26, 2019, there were clashes between residents of the village of al-Mugheir, northeast of Ramallah, and a settler from the community of Adi Ad. During the clashes the settler was slightly wounded. Following his wounding, a riot broke out between Palestinians and settlers who approached the village. During the clashes the settlers apparently fired guns, killing a Palestinian. IDF soldiers were called to the site to separate the sides from one another (IDF spokesman, January 26, 2019). The event is under investigation.
- The Palestinian media claimed the event was an “invasion” of the village of al-Mugheir by settlers from Adi Ad, during which the settlers fired indiscriminately at the villagers and their homes. The PA ministry of health reported that the Palestinian fatality was Hamdi Taleb al-Naasan, 38, father of four, who served a sentence of eight years in an Israeli jail. Nine Palestinians were wounded in the event. According to other reports, 30 Palestinians were wounded (Wafa, January 26,2019; Ma’an, January 27, 2019; Palinfo, January 26, 2019). Al-Naasan was given a PA military-style funeral, attended by Laila Ghanem, the governor of the Ramallah district.
Right: Death notice issued by Hamas in the Ramallah and al-Bireh district for Hamdi al-Naasan from the village of al-Mugheir (Amama Twitter account, January 26, 2019). Left: The PA military-style funeral held for Hamdi al-Naasan (Facebook page of Ramallah district governor Laila Ghanem, January 27, 2019).
- Mahmoud Abbas’ office issued a statement condemning the attack in al-Mugheir and accusing the Israeli government of responsibility for the escalation. He said it would have serious consequences, increase the tension and lead to a dangerous atmosphere which would be impossible to control (Wafa, January 26, 2019). Hamas and PIJ spokesmen also condemned the event and called for an escalation of the confrontation with Israel and the settlers (Shehab, al-Risalah, January 26, 2019).
- Calls were heard in the Palestinian street to defend the villages from settler attacks (Shabakat Quds, January 26, 2019). Majid al-Fityani, secretary of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, said the only way to deal with the aggression of the settlers was to announcement a “general mobilization” in all the Palestinian villages as part of a “national program” to repel the settlers in every way possible (Palestinian TV, January 26, 2019).
Other events on the ground
- Israeli security forces continued counterterrorism activities throughout Judea and Samaria, detaining several dozen Palestinians suspected of terrorist activity, confiscating funds used to finance terrorist activities, and seizing improvised weapons. In the meantime, Palestinians continued throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at vehicles in Judea and Samaria, damaging several. The more prominent events were the following:
- January 29, 2019: According to an initial report, a 17-year-old Palestinian was detained at the Gilboa Crossing (north of Jenin). An IED was found in his possession.
- January 27, 2019: Palestinians threw stones at an Israeli vehicle in the village of Turmus ‘Ayya (northeast of Ramallah). No casualties were reported. IDF forces detained one of the Palestinians throwing stones (Rescue Without Borders in Judea and Samaria, January 27, 2019).
- January 26, 2019: Israeli security forces identified a young Palestinian near the Nablus Gate in east Jerusalem who seemed suspicious. He was found to be carrying a knife, and was detained (Jerusalem police spokesman’s unit, January 27, 2019).
- January 25, 2019: An IDF force shot at three Palestinians throwing stones at Israeli vehicles near the village of Silwad, east of Ramallah. Two of them were wounded, one of whom later died (IDF spokesman, January 25, 2019). The Palestinian media reported that the fatality was Ayman Ahmed Othman Hamed (Fares), 16 or 18, from Silwad. He was a grandson of the brother of Qadoura Fares, chairman of the Palestinian prisoners’ club (Wafa, January 25, 2019; Ma’an, January 26, 2019). He was given a PA military-style funeral, which was attended by Laila Ghanem, the governor of the Ramallah and al-Bireh district, and Qadoura Fares (Ma’an, January 26, 2019).
- January 25, 2019: The Israeli security forces detained two Palestinians suspected of throwing stones and Molotov cocktails in the Shuafat refugee camp. During the detention one of the suspects was shot and wounded (Border Police spokesman, January 25, 2019).
- January 24, 2019: During a search for illegal weapons carried out by the Israeli security forces in the village of Ni’lin, a Carlo improvised machine gun was seized (IDF spokesman, January 24, 2019).
Significant terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria during the past year and a half 
The Rafah Crossing
- Egypt announced the closing of the Rafah Crossing to traffic in both directions on January 24, 2019 on the occasion of the anniversary of the revolution. The crossing was reopened on January 27, 2019, for people entering the Gaza Strip (alresala.net, January 27, 2019). On January 29, 2019, Egypt announced the opening of the Rafah Crossing in both directions for three days (Amama Twitter account, January 28, 2019). It was the first time the crossing was open in both directions since the Palestinian Authority officials left on January 6, 2019.
The third installment of the funds from Qatar
- After a series of attacks along the Gaza Strip border, including the wounding of an IDF officer by sniper fire, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the freezing of the delivery of funds from Qatar to the Gaza Strip. A number of days later, in light of a recommendation from the Israel Security Agency, Netanyahu authorized the delivery. On January 23, 2019, Muhammad al-Amoudi, chairman of the Qatari Committee for the Reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, entered the Gaza Strip through the Erez Crossing to deliver the funds, but Hamas refused to accept them (al-Quds, January 24, 2019).
- According to Khalil al-Haya, a member of Hamas’ political bureau, Yahya al-Sinwar, head of the Hamas political bureau in the Gaza Strip, met with Mahmoud al-Amoudi. After the meeting, Hamas announced its refusal to accept the funds from Qatar. That was because of Israel’s alleged attempts to drag the Palestinian issue into its election propaganda and because of Israel’s alleged non-fulfillment of the commitments agreed upon (al-Aqsa, January 24, 2019). In ITIC assessment, Hamas’ refusal was the result of the internal Palestinian criticism of Hamas exploitation of the funds to promote its own interests (“quiet in return for dollars”).
Hamas’ answer to criticism: a cartoon of its refusal to accept funds from Qatar in return for quiet and stopping the “return marches” (‘Alaa’ al-Laqta’s Facebook page, January 25, 2019).
- The day after Hamas refused to accept the funds, Muhammad al-Amoudi held a press conference in Gaza City where he said there were groups trying to exploit the delivery of the funds for political purposes by making it seem as though the funds were for “quiet in return for dollars.” As to Hamas’ refusal to accept the funds, he said that the main objective of the gift was to improve the humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip by improving the supply of electricity and providing health services. He said the funds were supposed to reach tens of thousands of needy families (al-Jazeera, January 25, 2019). Thus, in effect, the Qataris and Hamas “redirected” the purpose of funds in order to moderate criticism against Hamas.
- Eventually the third installment of the funds from Qatar was delivered to the Gaza Strip, not to pay the salaries of officials employed by Hamas like the first two installments, but as aid to needy families. In addition, $5 million dollars were given to the UN to finance an employment project. The Qatari funds for needy families were distributed at post office branches throughout the Gaza Strip. The funds went to 94,000 families, each of which received $100. The payment was divided into two installments: 50,000 families receiving funds the first day and 44,000 the next (Filastin al-Yawm, January 26, 2019).
Right: Muhammad al-Amoudi visits a post office in the Gaza Strip to watch the distribution of funds from Qatar. Left: Hamas police secure the distribution of the funds. At the right is a sign thanking the ruler of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (Qatari Committee for the Reconstruction of the Gaza Strip Facebook page, January 26, 2019).
On January 27, 2019, at the UN offices in Jerusalem, Muhammad al-Amoudi signed an agreement to give $10 million for an employment project for unemployed workers in the Gaza Strip, part of a $150 million Qatari aid package to the Gaza Strip for 2019 (Qatari Committee Facebook page, January 27, 2019).
Interview with Saleh al-‘Arouri
- Saleh al-‘Arouri, deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau, gave an interview where he condemned the policies of Israel and the United States regarding the Palestinian people and stressing the importance of the “resistance” (the path of terrorism). He called on Israel to fulfill its commitments, as mediated by Egypt. He warned that if Israel did not fulfill its commitments, “the resistance would operate in original ways” (a veiled threat to Israel). He accused Israel of using its agreement to transfer the Qatari funds for political purposes in an attempt to force [Hamas] to maintain the lull.
- Al-‘Arouri accused the Israeli prime minister of exerting pressure on the Palestinian people as part of his election propaganda. He said Israel’s attempts to subdue the Palestinian people had failed. He said [Hamas] would not sign any peace, lull or calm agreement with Israel. He said the war with Israel was ongoing and comprised of many battles, which were followed by understandings which were not implemented on the ground by Israel (al-Aqsa, January 2, 2019).
Violent incidents with terrorist prisoners
- On January 21, 2019, there was an exceptional incident at the Ofer jail: hundreds of Palestinian terrorist prisoners from various organizations rioted after their cells were searched for smuggled mobile phones. Forces from the prison authorities entered the cells of operatives from Fatah, Hamas and the PIJ. They found weapons and SIM cards (Ynet, January 21, 2019). During the riot several Palestinians prisoners and eight Israeli warders were injured. In response to the events prisoners in other jails staged protests.
- The events in the prisons returned the issue of the prisoners to the Palestinian agenda. Senior figures in the PA and other organizations condemned Israel and criticized the alleged “violence” used on prisoners. In Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip attempts were made to organize demonstrations, mass protests and solidarity marches (al-Jazeera, January 22, 2019). Insofar as is known to the ITIC, no significant solidarity events in support of the prisoners were held in Judea and Samaria.
Formation of a new Palestinian government
- On January 29, 2019, during the weekly government meeting in Ramallah chaired by Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah announced the resignation of the Palestinian government. He said the current government would continue to function until a new one could be formed (Rami Hamdallah’s Facebook page, January 29, 2019).
Rami Hamdallah, prime minister of the national consensus government, announces his resignation during the weekly Palestinian government meeting (Rami Hamdallah’s Facebook page, January 29, 2019).
- As to the identity of Rami Hamdallah’s successor, a number of hypotheses have been raised. An article in the London-based newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat quoted “a Fatah movement source” as saying that the movement’s Central Committee had decided to appoint Muhammad Ashtiya, a member of Fatah’s Central Committee, as head of a Palestinian government that would be recognized as a PLO government (al-Sharq al-Awsat, January 27, 2019). The new government will be formed without Hamas or PIJ representation. In addition, both the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine announced that they would not participate in the new government unless agreements had been reached with all the Palestinian organizations t (Shabakat Quds, Filastin al-Yawm, January 26, 2019).
Passage of Irish bill boycotting goods manufactured by the communities in Judea and Samaria
- A bill to boycott goods manufactured in the Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria passed its second reading in the Irish parliament. If the proposed bill becomes law Irish companies would not be allowed to buy goods and services produced in the Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria. The Palestinians regard the vote as an achievement. Salim al-Za’noun, chairman of the Palestinian National Council, said it would be a victory for international law and the rights of the inhabitants living under the “occupation.” He called on Palestinian institutions to implement the decision of the Palestinian National Council to adopt international boycotts of the “occupation” in addition to boycotting the settlements and a general disengagement from Israel (Wafa, January 27, 2019).
 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. ↑