Palestinians riot near the border security fence in the Gaza Strip (Ma'an, March 23, 2018).
Bringing equipment and water to a location near the airfield, east of Rafah (Palinfo Twitter account, March 27, 2018).
Yahya al-Sinwar sits next to Isma'il Haniyeh at a meeting of the heads of the organizations (Palinfo, March 22, 2018).
- During preparations for the “great return march” Hamas has allowed a controlled increase in tension with Israel. The main events were the following:
- On March 24, 2018, four Palestinians infiltrated into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip. Their objective was to vandalize IDF engineering equipment used in constructing the underground barrier along the Gaza Strip border. One of the engineering tools was set on fire. The four escaped to the Gaza Strip.
- On March 27, 2018, three Palestinians infiltrated into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip. They were caught at a distance of about 20 kilometers (about 12.5 miles) from the border. They had hand grenades, knives and wire cutters in their possession. The IDF is investigating the event.
- On March 25-26, 2018 Hamas’ military wing held a broad exercise in the Gaza Strip. According to reports, 30,000 operatives were deployed throughout the Gaza Strip. During the exercise sirens were heard in the Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip. It later appeared that the Iron Dome aerial defense system was employed because there was machine gun fire during the exercise.
- In ITIC assessment, the exercise was held to send a message of deterrence to Israel, saying that Hamas was prepared for escalation that might occur during the “great return march.” It was also intended to send the message to the Palestinian Authority (PA) that despite the Gazans’ economic hardships, Hamas still has complete control over the Gaza Strip and will not surrender to Mahmoud Abbas’ threats or the restrictions he wants to impose on the Gaza Strip.
Demonstrations, clashes and riots
- This past week demonstrations and riots continued in Judea, Samaria, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Several thousand Palestinians clashed with the Israeli security forces at a number of locations in Judea and Samaria, including Bila’in, Burdus (west of Ramallah) and Hebron. The Israeli security forces responded with riot control measures. Palestinian sources reported that five Palestinians had been injured during clashes in the village of al-Mazra’a al-Gharbiya, northwest of Ramallah (Wafa and Filastin al-Yawm, March 23, 2018).
- In the Gaza Strip Palestinians rioted near the border security fence. A spokesman for the ministry of health in the Gaza Strip reported that eight Palestinians had been injured in clashes in the eastern and northern Gaza Strip. One Palestinian in northern Beit Hanoun was seriously injured (Quds Press, March 23, 2018).
- The Palestinian media called on the public to demonstrate on Friday, March 30, 2018, to mark Land Day and the beginning of the “great return march” (see below, the section on the Gaza Strip).
- Palestinians continued throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli security forces and civilian targets. Israeli security forces carried out counterterrorism activities throughout Judea and Samaria, detaining Palestinians suspected of terrorist activity and seizing weapons. The more prominent events were the following:
- March 26, 2018 – Stones were thrown at a bus on the Gush Etzion-Hebron road. No casualties were reported. The bus was damaged (Facebook page of Red Alert, March 26, 2018).
- March 23, 2018 – Stones were thrown at a vehicle on Route 443 (the Jerusalem-Modi’in-Tel Aviv road) near Beit Horon. No casualties or damage were reported (Facebook page of Red Alert, March 23, 2018).
- March 22, 2018 – Stones were thrown at a bus on the road between Havat Gilad and the Yitzhar Junction in Samaria. No casualties were reported; the bus was damaged (Facebook page of Red Alert, March 22, 2018).
- March 22, 2018 – Stones were thrown at a fire truck near Ma’ale Levona (north of Ramallah). No casualties were reported (Facebook page of Red Alert, March 22, 2018).
- March 21, 2018 – A Molotov cocktail was thrown at a bus on the Gush Etzion-Hebron road near Karmei Tsur. Later, stones were thrown on the same road near Bayt Umar. No casualties were reported (Facebook page of Red Alert, March 21, 2018).
Significant terrorist attacks during the past year
- This past week no rocket hits were identified in Israeli territory.
- On the evening of March 25, 2018, a series of sirens were heard in the communities near the Gaza Strip because of suspected rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. No rocket hit was identified in Israeli territory. Later it became clear the Iron Dome aerial defense system had been activated because of machine gun fire in the Gaza Strip, part of an exercise held by Hamas military wing (see below). Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas’ military wing, wrote on Twitter that no rockets had been fired from the Gaza Strip at Israel and that Iron Dome had been activated as a result of gunfire that was part of an exercise conducted by the military wing (Twitter account of Abu Obeida, March 25, 2018).
- In response, an IDF tank fired at two observation posts in the northern Gaza Strip. The Palestinian media reported that an observation post near Beit Lahia had been attacked (Paldf, March 25, 2018).
The Iron Dome aerial defense system operated after Hamas fire during a military exercise international the Gaza Strip (Palinfo Twitter account and Shehab Facebook page, March 25, 2018).
Monthly Distribution of Rocket Hits in Israel since January 2016
* The statistics do not include mortar shell fire or rockets which misfired and fell inside the Gaza Strip.
** Six of the rockets fired in February 2017 were launched from the Sinai Peninsula at Israeli territory, apparently by ISIS’s Sinai Province. In April a rocket was launched from the Sinai Peninsula by ISIS’s Sinai Province. In October 2017 two rockets were fired from the northern Sinai Peninsula by ISIS’s Sinai Province. They fell in an open area in the western Negev.
Annual Distribution of Rocket Hits
Three Palestinians infiltrated into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip
- On March 27, 2018, during a routine IDF activity along the border security fence, footprints were found near the fence in the southern Gaza Strip. After an extensive search of the area an IDF force apprehended three Gazans who had infiltrated into Israeli territory. They were located near the community of Tse’elim (about 20 kilometers from the Gaza Strip border). They had hand grenades, knives and wire cutters in their possession (Israel Police Force spokesperson’s unit, March 27, 2018). The IDF is investigating the incident.
IDF engineering equipment set on fire
- On March 24, 2018, four Palestinian infiltrated into Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip. Their objective was to vandalize IDF engineering equipment being used to construct an underground barrier to keep tunnels penetrating into Israel from being built along the Gaza Strip border. The four, who had come equipped with an accelerant, set fire to one of the pieces of equipment, causing minor damage. The four fled back to the Gaza Strip when they saw an IDF force approach (Israeli media, March 24, 2018).
- In response, Israeli Air Force aircraft attacked a Hamas training camp in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip (IDF spokesperson, March 25, 2018). The Palestinian media reported that a post of Hamas’ military wing northwest of Rafah had been attacked. No casualties were reported (Shehab and Palinfo, March 25, 2018). Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum posted his response to the attack on his Facebook page, saying that Israel’s escalation was meant to create confusion and frighten people, and to cause the failure of the “great return march.” He said the attack reflected Israel’s distress at the determination of the Palestinians to achieve their rights (Facebook page of Fawzi Barhoum, March 25, 2018).
- The IDF said it regarded as serious every attempt to attack Israel’s security infrastructure, including the border fence, and every violation of Israeli sovereignty, above or below ground. The IDF also warned the residents of the Gaza Strip not to hold events in which civilians were called to “demonstrations” that served as a cover for attacking Israel’s security infrastructure and for attempts to harm Israeli civilians or IDF soldiers (IDF spokesperson, March 25, 2018).
Stones thrown at IDF engineering equipment
- On March 25, 2018, stones were thrown at an IDF engineering force and IDF bulldozers in the region of Khirbat Ikhza’a (near Khan Yunis) in the southern Gaza Strip. No casualties were reported. IDF engineering equipment located at the site is being used to construct an underground barrier to prevent tunnels from being built and to construct an embankment before the “great return march” (Facebook page of Red Alert, March 25, 2018).
The humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip
The Rafah crossing
- The Palestinian embassy in Egypt announced the Egyptians would open the Rafah crossing in both directions on March 23 and 24, 2018 (Safa, March 23, 2018). The crossing was opened for the passage of civilians and merchandise, primarily food (Wafa, March 23, 2018). During the two days the crossing was open several hundred civilians passed through in both directions. On March 25, 2018, Egypt closed the crossing (Emad, March 25, 2018).
The supply of electricity
- Muhammad Thabet, spokesman for the electric company, announced that on March 24, 2018, the power plant in the Gaza Strip ceased operations because the fuel supplied by Egypt had run out. He said they would try to get more fuel to restore operations of the power plant to operations (Shehab, March 25, 2018). In light of the situation, despite the closing of the Rafah crossing, Egypt allowed twenty fuel tankers to enter the Gaza Strip (Emad, March 26, 2018).
The water desalination project
- A meeting of the committee of countries donating to the water desalination project in the Gaza Strip expressed support for the project and pledged to donate €456 million (about $566 million). That is more than 80% of the estimated cost of the project. The plant will be constructed in three stages. Its overall cost is expected to be about $600 million (Wafa, March 20, 2018).
Statements from senior Hamas figures about the situation in the Gaza Strip and West Bank
- Senior Hamas figure Khalil al-Haya said in an interview that the “siege” of the Gaza Strip can be expected to lead to an “explosion” of the Palestinian public that will be directed against Israel. He said Hamas does not know when the explosion will occur or what form it will take, but when it happens Hamas will direct it against Israel. He accused Israel and the international community of responsibility for the situation in the Gaza Strip, adding that the “siege” had to be lifted immediately. Regarding relations with Iran, al-Haya said they had returned to their previous good state, and were based on defending the Palestinians and support for the “resistance” (al-Anadolu March 21, date, 2018).
- Husam Badran, a member of Hamas’ political bureau, said in an interview that it was the natural right and duty of those living under an occupation to “resist.” He said the activities of the “resistance” in the West Bank would escalate. He added that the activities of “the soldiers of the occupation” and the aggression of the settlers who turn their weapons against the Palestinian people were early signs of a broad confrontation. He said as long as Israel continued its policy of harming Palestinian civilians, attacks on soldiers would continue (al-Aqsa, March 19, 2018).
The status of preparation for the “great return march”
- Palestinians in the Gaza Strip continue their Intensive preparations for the “great return march.” The first official event will be held beginning at 10:00 on Friday morning, March 30 2018. On March 25, 2018, the “supreme national authority for the return march” began to set up the first tent camp in the region of Khirbat Ikhza’a (east of Khan Yunis). The Palestinians also began building an embankment in the same area (parallel to the embankment built by Israel) as a buffer zone between the Israeli security forces and the demonstrators. The organizers still claim that the events will be non-violent and will take place at a distance of about 700 meters (about .4 miles) from the border.
Right: Preparing the ground east of Gaza City for the tent camps and embankments. The Palestinians claim the embankments are to protect civilians from IDF forces (Palinfo Twitter account, March 26, 2018). Left: Bringing equipment and water to a location near the airfield,
east of Rafah (Palinfo Twitter account, March 27, 2018).
- According to plans, the events will be held on the morning of Friday, March 30, 2018, beginning at 10:00. People will gather at six locations along the border security fence. A media center will be set up at the Erez crossing in the northern Gaza Strip (Facebook page of Hanan Hassan Saleh, March 23, 2018). The organizers of the march issued an announcement about ways to arrive close to the border security fence. Reportedly, beginning on March 30, 2018, buses will provide transportation, leaving from every mosque in the Gaza Strip beginning at 10:00. The Friday sermon will be given near the fence (Paldf, March 27, 2018).
- The Palestinian media called on the public to participate in the events taking place near the security fence on March 30, 2018 at a distance of 700 meters (al-Aqsa, Filastin al-Yawm, March 23, 2018). In Judea and Samaria, calls were also heard to participate in the events. The national forces in Ramallah and al-Bireh called for extensive public participation in activities marking Land Day, which they also called a “day of escalation” in preparation for Nakba Day and the “great return march” (Wafa, March 24, 2018).
- Arij al-Ashqar, a member of the march’s committee for women’s affairs, said efforts were being made to recruit as many women as possible to participate in the events and that recruitment meetings were being held to explain their importance to women. He said women were full partners in the struggle and they would march at the head of the crowds. He also said children would not participate (alresala.net, March 22, 2018).
- The organizers intend to have extensive Palestinian, Arab and international coverage of the events. The media center will be at the Erez crossing. The Hamas-affiliated al-Risalah news agency erected a tent for the media near the eastern edge of Gaza City (alresala.net, March 26, 2018).
Large-scale military maneuver held by Hamas
- Hamas’ military wing held a large-scale two-day maneuver (March 25-26, 2018) in the Gaza Strip. It was called “the maneuver of firm stance and challenge.” According to the organizers, 30,000 Hamas military wing operatives from all its units (land, sea and air) participated. Operatives were deployed throughout the Gaza Strip. They used armed vehicles to simulate IDF tanks, practiced “attacking” them, fired trial rockets towards the sea and used UAVs bearing the inscription “Ababil.” They also simulated abducting IDF soldiers, emerging from tunnels and preventing Israeli air landings (al-Quds, Ma’an, Safa, Dunia al-Watan, and the Facebook page of QudsN, March 25, 2018).
Rally for solidarity with Jerusalem
- A rally was held at the al-Mahata mosque in Gaza City to show solidarity with Jerusalem. Senior Hamas figure Isma’il Radwan gave a speech in which he said that “Jerusalem is ours, there is no east Jerusalem and west Jerusalem, Jerusalem is Arab, Islamic, Palestinian, the eternal capital of the Palestinians.” He emphasized that Hamas was continuing its “legitimate resistance” to the occupation through the intifada and the “return march.” He called on Arabs and Muslims to support Jerusalem with mass marches that would take place at the same time as the return marches on March 30, 2018 (Shehab news agency and Ma’an, March 23, 2018).
Rally in the Gaza Strip where senior Hamas figure Isma’il Radwan gives a speech
(website of Sawt al-Aqsa radio, March 23, 2018).
Public activity of Yahya al-Sinwar, head of Hamas’ political bureau in the Gaza Strip
- This past week Yahya al-Sinwar, head of Hamas’ political bureau in the Gaza Strip, appeared in public twice. That was after he had not appeared publicly or in the media for two months. On March 22, 2018, he paid a visit to wounded operatives of the Hamas security forces in the Shuhada’a al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al-Balah. The operatives had been wounded during an operation in the Nuseirat refugee camp to trap an individual involved in the attack on the convoy of Rami Hamdallah, the Palestinian prime minister (Dunia al-Watan, March 22, 2018). On the evening of March 22, 2018, Yahya al-Sinwar and Isma’il Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, met with the heads of the Palestinian organizations in al-Sinwar’s office. Haniyeh and al-Sinwar updated them on the investigation into the attack on Rami Hamdallah’s convoy (Hamas movement website, March 22, 2018).
Right: Yahya al-Sinwar (grey jacket) arriving at the hospital. Next to him is Tawfiq Abu Na’im, commander of the internal security forces in the Gaza Strip (Dunia al-Watan, March 22, 2018). Left: Yahya al-Sinwar sits next to Isma’il Haniyeh at a meeting of the heads of the organizations (Palinfo, March 22, 2018).
Criticism of the American decision to cut aid for the PA
- Donald Trump signed a bill for budget proposals which would include the Taylor Force Act, approved in 2017, that would cut some of the funds the United States transfers to the PA, unless the Palestinians stop funding the families of shaheeds and prisoners. According to the bill, the only funds the United States would transfer to the PA would be for water, hospitals in east Jerusalem and vaccinations for children (LA times, March 24, 2018).
- The American decision enraged the Palestinians, who regard it as another American move directed against the PA:
- Ahmed Majdalani, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, said the “salaries” received by the families of prisoners and shaheeds could not be subjected to American political extortion. He added that the Palestinian leadership considered the issue very important, because the prisoners were prisoners of freedom struggling for the sake of independence. He said the budget cut was a continuation of American policies against the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian people (Wafa, March 23, 2018).
- Hamas spokesman Usama al-Qawasmeh said the rights of the families of prisoners and shaheeds were not a bargaining chip. He said the White House was in competition with the Israeli Knesset to see who could express more hatred and racism against the Palestinian people (Facebook page of the Fatah movement, March 25, 2018).
International Palestinian activity
- Omar Awadallah, head of the UN and special agencies department of the Palestinian foreign ministry, said the PA was preparing itself to ask for membership in ten international agencies. He said Mahmoud Abbas had signed edicts to join them, which would help the PA bring Israel to trial for its “crimes” (Dunia al-Watan, March 25, 2018).
[*] Because of the Passover vacation, News of Terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict will not appear next week. We wish all our readers a happy Passover. ↑
 A significant attack is defined by the ITIC as involving shooting, a vehicular attack, the use of IEDs, shooting, or a combination of the above. Stones and Molotov cocktails thrown by Palestinians are not included. ↑
 Update of previous ITIC bulletins on the "great return march" ↑
 For further information about the "great return march,' see the March 27 bulletin. ↑