Over 2 million Palestinians live crowded into the 140 square miles on the Gaza Strip. But what makes this little slice of land the heart of such a massive conflict?
Israel is slightly bigger than Vermont, and on its west side — bordering Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea — lies the Gaza Strip, which is about twice the size of Washington, D.C., and roughly triple the population. It's the smaller of two Palestinian territories, with the other being the Israeli-occupied West Bank, a 2,200-square-mile area located about 70 miles east of the Gaza Strip.
Today, the United Nations estimates up to 60% of Gazans are registered refugees, many of whom are living in the densely populated Gaza City. Others reside in squalid camps.
Israel occupied Gaza from 1967 until 2005, when international and domestic pressure forced Israel to withdraw its military and some 9,000 Israeli settlers from Gaza. While tensions have been fraught between Israel and Palestinians for decades, relations took a dive after Hamas seized control of the territory.
"Hamas took over Gaza, actually, from the Palestinian authority, which is the recognized government by most international countries," said Jonathan Panikoff, a Middle East security expert with the Atlantic Council think tank.
The Israeli government has imposed a land, sea and air blockade on Gaza since Hamas came to power in the name of protecting Israeli citizens, as Hamas openly declares its eventual goal is to eradicate Israel. But according to Panikoff, Hamas is just one of several groups fighting for power within the Gaza Strip.
"Palestinian Islamic Jihad is a different one," he told Scripps News. Sometimes they play nicely together and sometimes they don't. So the idea that there is one single group or one single source to talk to probably is not true."
Hamas has also targeted and killed Israelis with rockets and suicide bombs, leading Israel, the United States and other nations to designate Hamas as a terrorist organization.
Israel has been accused internationally of outsized response to these attacks, at times cutting off access to water, power and infrastructure supplies to Gaza, making it difficult to rebuild after Israeli airstrikes reduce the city to rubble.
Trending stories at Scrippsnews.com