There has been a significant escalation of hostilities in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel after a rocket was fired from Gaza, severely damaging a house in central Israel and injuring seven Israelis on 25 March. Despite reports of an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, hostilities continued overnight 26 March, although a relative calm appears to be holding since 27 March.
In the early morning hours of 27 March, an 18-year-old Palestinian volunteer medic was shot and killed by Israeli forces while on duty during clashes in the Duheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem.
In the West Bank, six Palestinians and two Israelis were killed in five incidents during the reporting period, bringing the total number of Palestinians and Israelis killed this year to 16 and three, respectively. On 17 March at the junction leading to Ariel settlement near Salfit, a Palestinian man killed an Israeli soldier and Israeli settler, and injured another Israeli soldier at a nearby junction, before fleeing the scene. Israeli forces conducted extensive search and arrest operations and deployed dozens of flying checkpoints in the aftermath of the incident. Two days later, an Israeli undercover unit raided a house in the village of Abwein (Ramallah), in which the suspect was hiding, killing him after a reported exchange of fire. Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces erupted during the search-and-arrest operations, resulting in injury to eight Palestinians in Abwein and 14 others in Salfit city. Also, in an earlier incident in Salfit city, on 12 March, another Palestinian was killed by live ammunition from Israeli forces, and 40 other Palestinians were injured, during clashes that erupted during a search and arrest operation. On the same day, a Palestinian, aged 41, was shot and killed by Israeli forces stationed at a checkpoint controlling pedestrian access in the Israeli-controlled H2 area of Hebron city, after he allegedly attempted to stab an Israeli soldier; in 2018, three Palestinians were shot and killed in H2, in stabbing or attempted stabbing attacks that they perpetrated. On 20 March, two other Palestinians were killed by live ammunition in an area where clashes were taking place between Palestinians and Israeli forces, who were accompanying Israeli settlers to Nablus city to visit Joseph’s Tomb; a Palestinian ambulance also sustained damage, preventing it from reaching the injured. In another incident in Bethlehem, on 20 March, Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian and injured another while they were travelling near a military tower at an Israeli-controlled checkpoint; the reason for the shooting remains unclear.
In the Gaza Strip, two Palestinians, in two areas east of Gaza and Al Bureij, were killed, and 350 others were injured, in demonstrations and clashes along the perimeter fence on 22 March. Of the injuries during the reporting period, 204 were hospitalized, including 93 people injured by live ammunition, according to Palestinian health sources. In additional protests and activities in the context of the ‘Great March of Return’, one Palestinian was killed in the Beit Hanoun area and 69 Palestinians were injured. These include demonstrations on the beach next to the perimeter fence in northern Gaza, alongside a flotilla of boats that tried to break the naval blockade, and night activities near the fence, involving the throwing of explosive devices at Israeli forces. Fourteen more Palestinians were injured in two incidents, after Israeli forces fired tanks shells and a missile towards a military post, and at a group of people while they were reportedly launching incendiary balloons near the fence.
On 14 March, two rockets from the Gaza Strip hit Tel Aviv for the first time since the 2014 hostilities. In response, Israeli air forces launched multiple airstrikes, targeting military sites and open areas in Gaza, injuring four people, including a child and two women, one of whom was pregnant, and severely damaging property. According to Israeli military sources, 100 targets were hit in Gaza.
Seven Israelis were injured in central Israel after a rocket was fired from Gaza, severely damaging a house on 25 March. Following the incident, the Israeli authorities closed Kerem Shalom and Erez crossings until further notice, allowing only movement of urgent cases, and reduced the permitted fishing zone to zero nautical miles. In addition, the Israeli Air Force struck multiple locations across Gaza, including residential buildings, offices, military sites and open areas, injuring two and displacing sixteen families, comprising 83 people, according to initial reports from the Shelter Cluster. Palestinian armed groups fired dozens of projectiles towards southern Israel, reportedly causing damage.
On at least nine occasions, outside of the demonstrations and in the context of enforcing access restrictions, Israeli forces opened warning fire in the areas adjacent to the perimeter fence and off the coast of Gaza, causing one injury. On one occasion, Israeli forces entered Gaza and carried out land-levelling and excavation operations near the perimeter fence.
During the period, 75 Palestinians were injured by Israeli forces in multiple clashes across the West Bank. These included 26 Palestinians injured in two search and arrest operations in Al Jalazoun refugee camp in Ramallah and in Salfit city, on 15 and 17 March, respectively. Overall, Israeli forces conducted 227 search and arrest operations, during which 200 people were arrested. Twenty-two (22) other Palestinians were injured in Al Bireh city (Ramallah) in a protest on 20 March, against the killing of the Palestinian man in Abwein a day earlier. Also, 20 students and five teachers required treatment after Israeli forces shot tear gas canisters into a school in the H2 area during clashes. In the Old City of Jerusalem, seven Palestinians were physically assaulted and injured by Israeli forces after a police station located in the Al Aqsa Mosque compound sustained damage due to a deliberate fire, reportedly caused by Palestinians; the compound was briefly closed. Overall, almost two-thirds of the injuries from clashes in the reporting period were caused by tear gas inhalation requiring medical treatment, 25 per cent by rubber bullets, eight per cent by physical assault and three per cent by live ammunition.
There was an increase in settler violence, with 13 incidents attributed to Israeli settlers that led to five Palestinian injuries and damage to property, particularly following the killing of the two Israelis on 17 March. In two incidents in Nablus and Jenin, settlers stoned Palestinian vehicles driving on Road 60 and near Homesh settlement, injuring four Palestinians, including a woman. Another woman was physically assaulted by settlers in the Tel Rumeida area in Hebron. In eight other incidents, settlers vandalized at least 30 Palestinian-owned cars and caused damage to three houses, when they raided the villages of Burqa, Burin and Asira al Qibliya in Nablus, Kifl Haris in Salfit, Jinsafut in Qalqiliya, Saffarin in Tulkarm and Battir in Bethlehem. Another 28 vehicles were vandalized by settlers in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem.
Also in the West Bank, the Israeli authorities demolished 25 Palestinian-owned structures, six of which were donated, displacing 35 people and affecting over 500 others, on the grounds of a lack of Israeli-issued building permits. Nine of the structures were demolished in Area C in five communities in Bethlehem and Hebron governorates; the rest were in East Jerusalem. In one incident in the Shu’fat neighbourhood, Israeli forces demolished an elementary school under construction, which was an extension to an existing school and designed to accommodate 450 students during the next school year.
Palestinians caused damage to three vehicles belonging to Israeli settlers in two incidents, according to Israeli media reports. On 20 March, Palestinians stoned Israeli-plated vehicles travelling near Beit Sira village (Ramallah), causing damage to two cars, and stoned the light train in Shu’fat (Jerusalem) in another incident on the same day.
Hundreds of people were arrested and a number of people were physically assaulted and injured by Hamas forces in protests between 14 and 18 March, according to human rights groups in Gaza. The demonstrations, which were organized against the dire conditions and the high cost of living, involved burning tyres, erecting barricades, hurling stones and clashing with Hamas forces.
During the reporting period, the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt was open in both directions for seven days, and an additional two days in one direction to allow the exit of pilgrims. A total of 2,635 people entered Gaza, including 641 pilgrims, and 3,714 others exited, including 1,539 pilgrims.