What to know about the Gaza Strip

The attack on Israel by militant Islamists Hamas from the Gaza Strip is a dramatic escalation in the Middle East conflict. Who lives in Gaza and what role does it play in the current conflict?

The Gaza Strip, a small area nestled between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean, is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. 

The militant Islamist Palestinian group Hamas has been attacking Israel from Gaza since October 7. Germany, the European Union, the US and some Arab states classify Hamas as a terrorist organization.

The Gaza Strip covers an area approximately ten kilometers wide and 41 kilometers long. Just over two million people live there, which means an average of around 5,500 people per square kilometer. In Israel, the average population density is around 400 people per square kilometer.

Who lives in the Gaza Strip?

The people living in the Gaza Strip are Palestinians. This includes both those who were original residents there but also many refugees who fled to Gaza from Israel following Israel’s founding in 1948 and the subsequent military conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians.

Most of the residents live in the north of the region, particularly in Gaza City. The population is very young, with almost 40% of the population under the age of 15.

What is the difference with the West Bank?

The Palestinian territories include the Gaza Strip and the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The West Bank with East Jerusalem borders Israel, the Dead Sea and Jordan.

Being much larger and less densely populated, it differs significantly from the Gaza Strip. It is governed by the Fatah party, the strongest faction in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which recognizes Israel’s right to exist and is seen by most Western countries as representing the Palestinians.

Who governs Gaza?

Since 2007, the Gaza Strip has been governed by the militant Islamist group Hamas. The group rejects the peace process with Israel and in its charter calls for the destruction of Israel.

For years, militants have sent rockets from Gaza into Israeli areas, but the attack that began on October 7 is a dramatic escalation of the longstanding conflict.

What is the Gaza Strip blockade?

Since Hamas came to power in 2007, Gaza has been seen as “enemy territory” by Israel and has remained largely sealed off to this day. Israel controls access by land, sea and air.

Hamas has since continued what it describes as “self-defense” attacks on Israel, which have resulted in four major military clashes with the Israeli army in the past: in 2008-09, 2012, 2014 and 2021.

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