Israel-Gaza war explained
Gaza, a narrow strip of land wedged between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea is home to more than 2.3 million people. The Palestinian enclave has become a focus of the conflict between Israel and Hamas after the militant group’s fighters launched a cross-border attack from there on October 7, 2023, killing more than 1,200 Israelis and taking more than 240 hostages. Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel unleashed the heaviest air strikes ever on Gaza, killing thousands, before launching ground operations in what it called “stage two” of the war. Here is a closer look at Gaza and the latest war between Israel and Hamas.
Evolution of Israel’s borders
The founding of Israel in 1948 followed a period of British rule over Palestine, a region taken from the Ottoman Empire. This was accompanied by the implementation of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, when Britain expressed support for a “national home for the Jewish people”. Conflicts with the Arab population ensued.
Egypt governed Gaza for almost 20 years under military rule until Israel took control of it in 1967, along with the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In 2005, Israel withdrew all its troops and settlers from Gaza, and effectively isolated it from the outside world with a fence. The following year, Hamas emerged as the dominant political force in Gaza after winning the Palestinian legislative election.
In 2007, Hamas expelled its rival faction, Fatah, and assumed control inside the territory. Since then, Egypt has helped enforce an Israeli blockade that restricts the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza.
Hamas governs Gaza, but Israel maintains full control over its borders, airspace and territorial waters. Following the October 7 attack, Israel imposed a “total siege” on Gaza, preventing the entrance of food, water and fuel - creating a dire humanitarian situation. Many of Gaza’s residents are refugees from previous wars with Israel, living in poverty and reliant on food aid. Limited UN aid deliveries resumed through the Rafah crossing with Egypt on October 21. But Israel has repeatedly said it will not allow any fuel to reach Gaza, fearing militants will use it for their own purposes.
Hamas has been designated a terrorist group by the United States and European Union. The Islamist group, which has sworn to destroy Israel, has launched thousands of rockets at Israel over the years.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars before, in 2008-9, 2012 and 2014, and Israel invaded Gaza twice, but never tried to wipe out Hamas completely.
View of Gaza from space
The destruction of areas of northern Gaza is visible from space in satellite images taken before and after Israel's air strikes, which followed the raids carried out by Hamas militants on October 7. Tightly packed streets in Beit Hanoun look obliterated in a grey wasteland.
The pattern of destruction in the Al Karameh neighbourhood can be traced by a widespread pattern the colour of ash.
The war between Israel and Hamas risks spiralling into a bigger conflict, with Israel’s arch-enemy Iran backing an array of heavily armed groups in the region. Hamas and its Palestinian ally Islamic Jihad are part of an Iran-backed alliance called the “Axis of Resistance”. Others include the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, Shiite paramilitary groups in Iraq and Yemen's Houthi rebels.
Hezbollah, which fought a month-long war with Israel in 2006 that ended in a tense stalemate, poses a serious threat with an estimated 150,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel. Iran also backs Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad. During more than a decade of civil war in Syria, Israel launched hundreds of air strikes on its northern neighbour, primarily targeting Hezbollah fighters and other Iran-backed forces as well as Syrian army positions.
The Israeli military has said it was prepared to fight a war on two or more fronts. That potentially might include escalation in the West Bank, where more than 2.7 million Palestinians live under an Israeli military occupation. The West Bank is governed by Hamas’ political rival Fatah. Dozens of Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank since Israel began retaliating against Hamas, in the worst surge of violence to have swept the West Bank in some 15 years.
Countries that recognise Palestine as a state
On November 15, 1988, then-Palestinian President Yasser Arafat proclaimed the Palestinian Declaration of Independence. Since then,138 countries have recognised Palestine despite the fact it has no defined borders. Israel is recognised by 165 countries. Palestine is not a full member of the UN, but is a “non-member observer state”.Hover to get more information
Associate Creative Director Marcelo Duhalde
Edited by Andrew London
Additional web development by Dennis Wong
Sources: OCHA, UNRWA, PCBS, CENSTATD, UNOSAT, UNITAR, Worldpop, Gaza Electrical distribution company, NetBlocks, South China Morning Post archives, Associated Press, Reuters, Google Earth, DW.