Gaza: Palestinian territory ravaged by war and poverty

Gaza City: The Gaza Strip, run by Islamist movement Hamas, is a poverty-stricken and overcrowded Palestinian coastal enclave under a crippling blockade by Israel, with which it has fought several wars.

After Israel tightened the blockade on Tuesday by suspending fuel deliveries amid fears of a new all-out conflict, here is some background.

– Cramped Mediterranean strip –
On the Mediterranean coast, Gaza is one of the most densely populated territories on the planet with around two million Palestinians squeezed into 362 square kilometres (140 square miles).

After the creation of the Jewish state of Israel in 1948 and the Arab-Israeli war of 1948-1949, Gaza came under the administration of neighbouring Egypt.

It was seized by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967.

– Shut-in –
In 2005 Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers, ending 38 years of occupation.

But it imposed a blockade in 2006, restricting the cross-border movement of people and goods following the capture of a soldier by Hamas militants on Israeli territory.

The blockade was tightened a year later after the Islamists ousted troops loyal to the rival Fatah faction of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

The only entrance to Gaza not controlled by Israel is at Rafah on the Egyptian border. This too has been almost completely closed since jihadists launched an insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula after the military overthrew Egypt’s elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

In May 2018 Israel began working on a “new and impenetrable” coastal barrier just north of Gaza to prevent the possibility of Palestinians entering by sea.

– Aid-dependent, low employment –
The Gaza Strip has almost no industry and suffers from a chronic lack of water and fuel. Its GDP losses caused by the blockade are estimated at more than 50 percent, the World Bank says.

Unemployment stands at 45 percent and more than two-thirds of the population depends on aid.

A reconciliation deal in 2017 between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority raised hopes of an improvement in the harsh conditions in the enclave, but talks have stalled.

In January 2018 UN Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov warned the Gaza Strip was on the verge of “full collapse”.

Donors in March greenlighted a project to build a desalination plant in Gaza, where more than 95 percent of water is unfit for drinking due to overpumping of groundwater.

– Israeli crackdowns –
Israel has carried out several military operations against Palestinian militants in Gaza, with thousands killed.

“Operation Hot Winter” in February-March 2008, in response to the killing of an Israeli by a rocket fired from Gaza, left more than 120 Palestinians dead in just days.

It led to weeks of unrest, with rocket fire from Gaza and attacks from Israel, in which hundreds of Palestinians were killed until a truce in June.

A vast air offensive, “Operation Cast Lead”, was launched in December 2008 to stop Palestinian rocket fire into Israel. It ended with a ceasefire in January 2009 and 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.

In November 2012 “Operation Pillar of Defence” kicked off with a missile strike that killed top Hamas commander Ahmed Jaabari. In the ensuing eight-day flare-up, 177 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed.

In July 2014 Israel launched “Operation Protective Edge” to stop the rocket fire and destroy tunnels used for smuggling and the movement of militants.

It lead to a war that left 2,251 dead on the Palestinian side and 74 on the Israeli side.