In the shadow of the COVID-19 crisis: the first significant terrorist attack in the Palestinian Authority (PA) and a threat to renew IED balloon launchings from the Gaza Strip

Security camera documentation of the attack. Right: The Palestinian terrorist rams into a Border Police fighter.
The Palestinian terrorist exits the vehicle and stabs the fighter (YouTube, April 22, 2020).
The scene of the combined vehicular-stabbing attack in southeast Jerusalem (Israel Police Force spokesman's unit, April 22, 2020).
Overview
  • Since the outbreak of COVID-19 Judea and Samaria have been relatively quiet, with the exception of the stones and Molotov cocktails thrown at Israeli vehicles. The Gaza Strip has also been relatively quiet, with the suspension of the return marches and Hamas’ focusing on fighting the virus. However, the PA’s fight against the virus has been accompanied by a smear campaign against Israel. In the Gaza Strip fighting the virus has been accompanied by a Hamas blame campaign and threats.
  • On April 22, 2020 there was a combined vehicular and stabbing attack, the first of its kind since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. It occurred at a roadblock in Judea southeast of Jerusalem near Ma’aleh Adumim. A Border Police fighter was seriously wounded. The Palestinian terrorist who carried out the attack, Ibrahim Muhammad Halse, was shot and killed. He was not affiliated with any organization and the attack was motivated by personal problems. Thus the attack should be considered part of the popular terrorism campaign (“the popular resistance”), which has been supported by the PA and Fatah (since the Fatah conference in Bethlehem in November-December 2016).
The Palestinian terrorist exits the vehicle and stabs the fighter (YouTube, April 22, 2020).    Security camera documentation of the attack. Right: The Palestinian terrorist rams into a Border Police fighter.
Security camera documentation of the attack. Right: The Palestinian terrorist rams into a Border Police fighter. Left: The Palestinian terrorist exits the vehicle and stabs the fighter
(YouTube, April 22, 2020).
  • As in the past, the PA did not condemn the terrorist attack. The Wafa news agency (which is subordinate to the office of Mahmoud Abbas) reported the death of the Palestinian who carried it out. The report quoted eye witnesses who claimed Ibrahim Halse was shot because he allegedly carried out a combined vehicular-stabbing attack (Wafa, April 22, 2020). PA government spokesman Muhammed Milhem expressed sorrow at the deaths of Ibrahim Halse and Nur al-Din al-Barghouti, a Fatah operative who recently died in an Israeli jail.[1]

The tense atmosphere already caused by the spread of COVID-19 is being heightened by the PA, which accuses Israel of [allegedly] deliberately spreading the virus and of neglecting the medical needs of the Palestinians imprisoned in Israel. The PA’s incitement campaign, the belligerent statements made by Mahmoud Abbas regarding the formation of a new Israeli government[2] and the PA’s support of popular terrorism are all liable to lead to an increase in the scope of popular terrorism even as the PA focuses its efforts on preventing the spread of the virus and urgently needs foreign aid.

  • In the Gaza Strip the commander of one of the balloon launching units (affiliated with the Resistance Committees) threated that his operatives would launch IED balloons into Israeli territory as revenge for the deaths of the imprisoned Fatah operative and the “shaheeds of the West Bank.” So far no balloon launches have been identified. The commander of a different balloon-launching unit (affiliated with Hamas) threatened that his operatives might return to intensive activities and “turn the area around the Gaza Strip into a living hell.” The statements are in addition to the threats made by senior Hamas figures against Israel, including Yahya al-Sinwar, head of the Hamas political bureau in the Gaza Strip, as an accompaniment to Hamas’ fight against COVID-19.
Appendix A
Combined vehicular-stabbing attack in southeast Jerusalem
  • On the morning of April 22, 2020, a combined vehicular-stabbing attack was carried out at a roadblock southeast of Jerusalem near Ma’aleh Adumim. A Palestinian drove his van to the roadblock, which was manned by Border Police fighters. When he arrived at the roadblock he veered out the lane and rammed into one of the Border Police fighters. He then exited the vehicle and stabbed him with a pair of scissors. Other fighters who were manning the roadblock shot and killed him. A pipe bomb was also found, and was neutralized by a police demolitions expert. The Border Police fighter was seriously wounded (Israel Police Force spokesman’s unit, April 22, 2020).
  • The Palestinian media reported that the terrorist was Ibrahim Muhammad Ali Halse, 25, from the village of al-Sawahra, southeast of Jerusalem. Apparently his motive for the attack was personal. The social media showed a video he posted a number of days ago in which he complains that his family is exerting strong pressure on him and that as a result he is in a difficult emotional state. A relative, who was interviewed by the Paltoday channel (affiliated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad), called the attack the “natural response” to Israel’s activities at the roadblock. He claimed the roadblock had been built on lands which had been appropriated from the Halse family (Paltoday TV, April 22, 2020).
al-Sawahra Baladna Facebook page, April 22, 2020).   Ibrahim Muhammad Halse, 25, from the village of al-Sawahra (right: QudsN Facebook page, April 22, 2020
Ibrahim Muhammad Halse, 25, from the village of al-Sawahra (right: QudsN Facebook page, April 22, 2020; left: al-Sawahra Baladna Facebook page, April 22, 2020).
  • The Palestinian Wafa news agency (which is subordinate to the office Mahmoud Abbas) reported that Ibrahim Muhammad Ali Halse had been killed by gunfire of the “occupation forces.” The report quoted eye witnesses who said he was shot because he allegedly carried out a combined vehicular-stabbing attack (Wafa, April 22, 2020). PA spokesman Muhammad Milhem expressed sorrow at the deaths of a [Fatah] prisoner and Ibrahim Halse, and condemned Israel for keeping both their bodies (Wafa, April 22, 2020).
  • Hamas welcomed the attack and praised the attacker and his family, and stressed that the “resistance” in the West Bank would continue (Hamas website, April 22, 2020). The National Islamic Forces in the village of al-Sawahra and southern Jerusalem issued a mourning notice for “the hero, Ibrahim Muhammad Halse.” His village declared a three-day commercial strike. The village’s Facebook page posted more than 500 notices from villagers who called him a “hero,” sent their condolences to the family and wrote that “Allah will have mercy on him and he will rest in paradise” (Facebook page of al-Sawahra Baladna, April 22, 2020).

Burning tires at the entrance to the village of al-Sawahra, where the terrorist lived (Fatah Facebook page, April 23, 2020).
Burning tires at the entrance to the village of al-Sawahra, where the terrorist lived (Fatah Facebook page, April 23, 2020).

Appendix B
Threats to renew the launching of IED/incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip
  • On April 22, 2020, a short time after the terrorist attack southeast of Jerusalem, it was reported that the commander of the Ahfaz al-Nasser balloon-launching unit (affiliated with the Resistance Committees) had decided to launch IED balloons at the Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip. It would be done to avenge the deaths of prisoner Nur al-Barghouti and the “shaheeds of the West Bank” (Paldf forum, April 22, 2020; Telegram channel of the joint operations room of the Sons of al-Zawari, April 22, 2020).
  • After the announcement the Ahfaz an-Nasser units claimed that a cluster of incendiary balloons had been launched from east of Sajaiya to the communities near the Gaza Strip. They also claimed operatives of the network in the central district of the Gaza Strip were preparing incendiary balloons and waiting for approval to launch them (Telegram channel of the joint operations room of the Sons of al-Zawari, April 22, 2020).
  • On April 23, 2020, the Ahfaz al-Nasser units announcement that “the decision [to launch balloons was] up to them and up to the commander of the units.” That may indicate that in reality they did not launch balloons. It also stated that no political price would make them leave Israel (“the enemy”) in peace, and they launched the hashtag “#our_prisoners_are_a_red_line” (Telegram channel of the joint operations room of the Sons of al-Zawari, April 23, 2020).
  • Despite the threat of the renewal of IED balloons from the Gaza Strip, apparently in reality the threat has not been carried out. The social networks and media did not document updated balloon launchings. In addition, no balloons were located and no fires were set near the Gaza Strip by incendiary balloons. Moreover, on April 23, 2020, the Sons of al-Zawari in Khan Yunis (affiliated with Hamas) posted on their Facebook page that so far no instructions had been give to renew activities. They also posted that in the coming days the unit might return to intensive activity and “turn the area surrounding the Gaza Strip into a living hell” (Facebook page of the Sons of al-Zawari in eastern Khan Yunis, April 23, 2020).

[1] Nur al-Din al-Barghouti, the Fatah operative who died in Israel's Ktziot jail, was sentenced to a term of eight years in prison, of which he served four. Palestinian sources blamed Israel for his death, which they claimed was caused by medical negligence. The Palestinian media published calls for revenge.
[2] Following reports in the Israeli media of the new government's intention to assert Israeli sovereignty over the territories, Mahmoud Abbas' office issued a statement warning Israel. It said that the annexation of the Jordan Valley or any other territory would have destructive consequences and bring the entire region to the edge of an abyss. Mahmoud Abbas said that they were informing Israel and the United States that the PA would not remain idle if Israel announced an annexation. In such a situation all agreements with those two countries would be totally cancelled (Wafa, April 22, 2020).