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Timeline: The 2021 Gaza War Followed a Long Record of Hamas-Initiated Attacks

Filed under: Hamas, Israeli Security, U.S. Policy

Timeline: The 2021 Gaza War Followed a Long Record of Hamas-Initiated Attacks
Rockets from Gaza, on the right, are seen in the night sky fired towards southern Israel from Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip on May 14, 2021, while Iron Dome interceptor missiles, on the left, rise to intercept them. (Anas Baba/AFP via Getty Images)

This article is part of the forthcoming Jerusalem Center research report: The Gaza War 2021: Hamas and Iran Attack Israel.

The May 10-21, 2021, Hamas-Israel hostilities did not erupt out of nowhere. They followed a long record of Hamas-initiated attacks, clashes, developments in internal Palestinian politics, rearmament, and Iranian incitement since the 2014 ceasefire. Hamas and its defenders claim the massive Hamas rocket barrages came as an answer to relatively minor events on the ground in Jerusalem.

The following illustrated timeline identifies seminal events related to Gaza since the 2014 ceasefire, including Hamas-Islamic Jihad-Iran activity, Hamas threats and attacks, and important events during the 11-day fighting.

August 26, 2014 – Israel-Hamas ceasefire

The 2014 Gaza War began in July 2014 and lasted until August 26, 2014. In that time, 4,564 rockets and mortars were fired into Israel from Gaza. The final ceasefire came after 50 days of warfare and after four broken ceasefires.1

December 15, 2016 – Hamas drone expert killed

Hamas’ Tunisian drone expert, Mohammad al-Zawahri, was assassinated in Sfax, Tunisia. Al-Zawahri was an engineer and a pilot who worked for Hamas for 10 years at the time of his death after receiving training in Iran. He was shot in his car and mourned as a martyr by the al-Qassam Brigades.2

A Hamas obituary poster for Mohammed al-Zoari
A Hamas obituary poster for Mohammed al-Zoari (Arab press)

March 30, 2018 – Gaza border protests began

Palestinians camped out by the Gaza-Israel border to demand an end to the Gaza blockade and the return of parts of Israel. The protests were co-opted by Hamas and quickly grew to 30,000 people at their height. By late April 2018, themed protests began, such as “Women’s March of Gaza,” “Day of Rebellious Youth,” and “Friday of the Palestinian Worker.”3 The protests continued every Friday until late December 2019 and have not resumed since.

The protests along Israel’s border, April 2018. This drone picture was taken by a Gazan photographer who was killed in the clashes. Israel later released information that he was a captain in the Hamas forces.
Hamas fighters killed in the “nonviolent” clashes along Israel’s fence with Gaza
Hamas fighters killed during the 2018 fence protests. They wore civilian clothes. (IDF)

April 21, 2018 – Hamas member and university lecturer killed in Malaysia

Fadi al-Batsh was a Hamas engineer who had been living in Malaysia for several years, where he worked on improving drone accuracy. He taught electrical engineering and was killed in a drive-by shooting in Kuala Lumpur. His work included drones’ “major components as motors, drives, power systems, communication system, and image processing tools and equipment.”4

November 11, 2018 – Clashes in Gaza after the discovery of IDF officers in a covert operation

IDF officers disguised as NGO workers were compromised and fled their intelligence-gathering mission in Gaza. One officer was killed. Rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza, and then Israeli forces hit approximately 70 targets in Gaza. A ceasefire was achieved on November 13, 2018, and was met with anger by residents of southern Israel who felt that the government had given in too quickly.5

December 31, 2018 – Iranian Supreme Leader met with Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) chief in Tehran

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met with Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) leader, Ziad Nakhala, to discuss PIJ’s resources and plans, including their rocket inventory. Khamenei also emphasized that Palestinian terror groups could expect support from Hizbullah and Iran in a future conflict with Israel.6

PIJ leadership with Supreme Leader Khamenei in Tehran
PIJ leadership meeting with Iran’s Supreme Leader. (Khamenei’s office)

March 25, 2019 – Hamas rocket destroyed Israeli home

A long-range rocket attack from Hamas destroyed a house in Mishmeret, 30 kilometers north of Tel Aviv, injuring seven people, including children. In response, the IDF conducted airstrikes on the office of Ismail Haniyeh and Hamas military intelligence headquarters in Gaza City.7

Ruins of a house in Mishmeret
(BBC video screenshot)

May 3, 2019 – Two Israeli soldiers injured by Palestinian Islamic Jihad sniper

Two IDF soldiers were injured by a Palestinian Islamic Jihad sniper during the Gaza border protests. Israel responded with an airstrike, and Gaza retaliated with hundreds of rockets fired into Israel. Israel then struck additional Gaza targets and increased troop presence at the Israel-Gaza border.8

August 5, 2019 – Iranian Supreme Leader met with Hamas delegation in Tehran

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met with Hamas deputy chief Saleh al-Arouri and a Hamas delegation. It was agreed to increase Iran’s support for Hamas to 30 million dollars per month in exchange for information on the locations of Israeli missiles. This represented a roughly five-fold increase in Iranian financial support for Hamas, up from approximately 6 million dollars per month in August 2018.9

Khamenei, Arouri, Salah, and Abu Marzouk
From right to left: Khamenei, Arouri, Salah, and Abu Marzouk (Khamenei’s office)

January 7, 2020 – Hamas Leader gave the eulogy at Soleimani funeral

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh traveled to Tehran to deliver a eulogy for Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani. The visit took place during an international tour, which Egypt had allowed on the condition that he did not enter Iran. This special effort made by Haniyeh to demonstrate Hamas’ support for Iran suggests that Hamas’ political leadership utilized the circumstances to grow closer to Iran and extract larger financial contributions for their military wing.10

Ismail Haniyeh eulogizes Soleimani in Tehran
Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh eulogizes Soleimani in Tehran on January 6, 2020. (Iran press)

May 6, 2021 – Palestinians protested in Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem

Palestinians rioted in Sheikh Jarrah, responding to a property dispute that dates back to 1948. Israeli courts have ruled that the tenants on this plot must pay rent to the rightful owners, but they have refused. The court decision was scheduled for May 10, but it was postponed due to rising tensions.11 This dispute went viral on social media and became a major news story plagued by misinformation. In response, Hamas issued rocket warnings.

Map of Jerusalem showing Sheikh Jarrah
Map of Jerusalem showing Sheikh Jarrah and the Jewish neighborhood surrounding the Tomb of Simon the Just. (British Mandate map, 1946)

May 7, 2021 – Palestinians threw rocks at Israeli police and rioted on the Temple Mount

Palestinians threw rocks at Israeli police during the final Friday of Ramadan. The rocks were stockpiled prior to the rioting and piled in the al-Aqsa Mosque.12

Stones stockpiled inside the al-Aqsa Mosque
Stones stockpiled inside the al-Aqsa Mosque. (Twitter, posted by Khaled Abu Toameh, May 10, 2021)

May 10, 2021 – Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem from Gaza

Hamas fired rockets from Gaza at cities in southern Israel and Jerusalem. Over the course of the next 11 days, some 15 percent of the rockets, or 680 projectiles, misfired and landed in Gaza, killing Palestinian civilians.13

May 11, 2021 – Israeli airstrikes leveled tower in Gaza containing Hamas office

The 13-story Hanadi Tower that contained an office of Hamas leadership was hit by an Israeli airstrike and then collapsed. Those living in the tower and nearby received IDF warnings one hour before the strike,14

May 12, 2021 – Israeli airstrikes targeted 16 Hamas leaders

Israeli airstrikes killed a Hamas senior battalion commander and weapon developer, Bassem Issa, during an attack on a command post.15

Hamas officers and weapons engineers killed in the fighting
Hamas officers and weapons engineers killed in the fighting (IDF)

May 12, 2021 – U.S. President Joe Biden defended Israel’s military response to the Hamas attacks.

“Israel has a right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory,” Biden said at the White House.16

May 14, 2021 – IDF attacked Hamas’ tunnels under Gaza City

The IDF attempted to lure Hamas into their underground tunnels by suggesting that troops would begin a ground assault on Gaza. However, the troops were only poised at the fence while the air force bombed the tunnels. Hamas suspected that the announcement was a ruse, so only a few dozen Hamas operatives were in the tunnels at the time of the strikes.17

May 15, 2021 – A high-rise building housing Hamas and media offices in Gaza destroyed by airstrikes

Israeli airstrikes destroyed the al-Jalaa building in Gaza, which housed residential and commercial offices, including al-Jazeera and the Associated Press. The IDF issued evacuation warnings to residents an hour prior to the strikes.18 Later, Israel announced that Hamas technology officers were using the building to develop a way to jam the Iron Dome electronically.

An Israeli airstrike destroys a high-rise building in Gaza City
An Israeli airstrike destroys a high-rise building in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, that housed media outlets including The Associated Press and Al Jazeera. (Nidal Alwaheidi / SOPA Images/Sipa USA via AP Images)

May 16, 2021 – Israel launched a large air force operation to destroy miles of underground tunnels in Gaza.

People stand on a collapsed Hamas military tunnel
People stand on a collapsed Hamas military tunnel beneath a Gaza street after an Israeli air strike in Gaza City, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

May 17, 2021 – U.S. blocked UN Security Council resolution that did not mention rocket fire from Gaza19

May 17, 2021 – IDF blocked Hamas naval commando mission

The IDF stopped a Hamas underwater attack using an unmanned, underwater vehicle. The Hamas commando base was also destroyed, and several Hamas fighters were killed.20

May 17, 2021 – Senior Islamic Jihad commander killed

Senior Islamic Jihad commander Hussam Abu Harbeed was killed by an airstrike. He led the northern Gaza division of Islamic Jihad for 15 years and was also responsible for the anti-tank missile that wounded an Israeli citizen during the 2021 Gaza fighting.21

Senior Islamic Jihad commander Hussam Abu Harbeed
Senior Islamic Jihad commander Hussam Abu Harbeed

May 21, 2021 – Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire

A ceasefire deal arranged by Egypt, Qatar, Israel, Hamas, and the UN went into effect at 0200 on May 21. There was a minor altercation at al-Aqsa mosque on May 21, but other than that, the ceasefire was not broken that day.22 Gazans continued to launch explosive and incendiary balloons toward Israel, which met an IDF air force response.

May 28, 2021 – The New York Times published a front-page photo collage showing images of Gaza children allegedly killed by Israeli weapons.23

New York Times front page
In an unprecedented front page, the New York Times showed the faces of dozens of alleged Gazan children casualties, but many of whom were actually killed by Hamas rockets or served as Hamas fighters.

May 28, 2021 – Hizbullah, IRGC, Hamas established command center for military operations in Gaza during 2021 Gaza War

The editor-in-chief of the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, Ibrahim Al-Amin, said during an interview that Hizbullah, IRGC, and Hamas established a military operations center in Beirut during the Gaza war. Weapons were transported to Gaza by Hizbullah, and Palestinian officers were removed from Gaza during the fighting.24 The Islamic Resistance used drones to provide information about the locations of the IDF.

June 24, 2021 – The New York Times published a multimedia video on the May 16 Israeli attack on the Hamas tunnels.

The video suggested that Israel had violated international law. At the same time, the New York Times made no mention of 680 Hamas rockets that fell on Gazans. The Times cited Gazan police officials even though Hamas controls the police. The paper also showed only one video of Gazan tunnels, photographed in 2014.25

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