The Gaza Strip has been under intense Israeli bombardment for the past five days in the wake of a deadly attack by the armed group Hamas, and human rights groups are calling it collective punishment of the Palestinian enclave’s 2.3 million residents.
Gaza is teetering on the verge of a humanitarian crisis with hospitals overwhelmed with casualties during a complete blockade after Israel intensified its 16-year long siege of the territory.
More than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed as Israel promised to avenge the deaths of at least 1,200 of its citizens in Saturday’s attacks.
What do we know about Gaza?
With 2.3 million people living on 365sq km (141sq miles) of land, the Gaza Strip is considered one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Its population density of 5,500 people per square kilometre (14,245 per square mile) lies in stark contrast to Israel’s at about 400 people per square kilometre (1,035 per square mile).
An overwhelming majority of Gaza’s population is young with 65 percent being under the age of 24 and the median age for men and women being 18 years.
Sixteen years of an Israeli land, air and sea blockade has crippled its economy and tightly restricted the movement of its people in and out of the enclave.
Gaza residents need special permission to cross into Israel and Egypt. This is usually for urgent medical treatment but is very difficult to obtain.
The enclave also has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world at 45 percent. Access to education and medical treatment is also lacking after years of Israeli air strikes on schools and hospitals.
Palestinians and activists call it the world’s largest “open-air prison” due to the Israeli blockade.
Muslims form the majority of the population, and there is a tiny minority Christian community.
More than 60 percent of Gaza’s people are refugees from what is currently Israel. More than750,000 Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homes by Israeli militias in 1948 when Israel declared its independence.
What does the total siege mean?
On Monday, Israel announced a “total blockade” of Gaza, which includes a ban on food, water, fuel and electricity supplies.
Most of Gaza’s electricity comes from Israeli power lines, and some is produced at a power plant in Gaza, which also sources its fuel from Israel.
Internet connectivity in the area has slumped since Saturday, according to data from NetBlocks.
Israeli has mobilised 300,000 soldiers around the strip for a possible ground invasion. Israel last invaded Gaza in 2014.
Where is Gaza located?
Gaza, a 10km (6 mile) by 41km (25 mile) strip located on the Mediterranean Sea, is one of two Palestinian territories, the other being the occupied West Bank.
It takes one hour to drive from its southern point, Rafah, to Beit Hanoon in the north.
The enclave is divided into five governorates: North Gaza, Gaza City, Deir el-Balah, Khan Younis and Rafah.
Gaza is separated from Israel by a separation barrier, and it has a southern border crossing with Egypt.
Who controls the Gaza Strip?
Gaza is viewed as an occupied territory because Israel has full control of its borders, airspace and territorial waters despite having formally withdrawn its forces and settlers from the enclave in 2005. Israel had captured the enclave along with other Palestinian territories – East Jerusalem and the West Bank – in the 1967 Six-Day War.
The Gaza Strip’s current boundaries were demarcated in the Egyptian-Israeli armistice agreement of February 24, 1949. Until 1967, Gaza was under Egyptian control.
In 2006, Hamas won elections against the Fatah party, which runs the Palestinian Authority (PA). The group took over Gaza after months of fighting with Fatah in 2007. The PA, which signed the 1993 Oslo Accords with Israel, governs the West Bank.
Hamas and other Palestinian resistance groups based in Gaza have carried out attacks against Israel before, triggering bloody Israeli assaults on the territory.
Since 2005, Israel has carried out at least six major military offensives in Gaza with 2014 being the most brutal. More than 2,000 Palestinians were killed in the seven-week Israeli assault.
What’s the latest conflict about?
Hamas, which does not recognise Israel and wants an independent Palestine based on the 1967 borders, is demanding that Israel end the enclave’s blockade and stop its occupation of Palestinian territories.
Israel has continued to expand settlements in Palestine in violation of the 1993 Oslo Accords, which Hamas did not sign. Palestinians fear the possibility of their own future state is fading due to settlement expansion.
The rise of extreme right politicians and settler violence in recent years have raised tensions. Palestinian groups based in Gaza have retaliated with rockets, triggering episodic violence with Israel. The far-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has further stoked tensions with his pro-settler politics.
Even before Saturday’s violence erupted, more than 200 Palestinians had been killed this year by Israeli forces – the deadliest year recorded. Since then, at least 1,055 more Palestinians have been killed, and 1,200 Israelis have died as of the fifth day of the fighting.