What is the Israel-Hamas dispute about?

Hundreds of people have been killed in Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip since the militant group launched an unprecedented attack on the Jewish state on Saturday.

Here, the PA news agency answers key questions surrounding the dispute.

– What has happened?

Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers launched a surprise attack on Israel by air, land and sea on Saturday morning.

It fired thousands of rockets into the country before its fighters crossed the border into southern Israel, killing civilians and taking captives.

In response, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared war on Hamas and his Government pledged to destroy Hamas’s “military and governing capabilities”.

Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant has ordered a “complete siege” on the Gaza Strip – a 25-mile-long and six-mile-wide territory home to more than two million people and bordered by Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea.

At least 700 people have reportedly since been killed in Israel and more than 400 have been killed in Gaza, which has been blockaded by Israel and Egypt for 16 years.

(PA Graphics)

Hamas, an acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement, is a Palestinian militant Islamist group and one of the Occupied Palestinian Territories’ two major political parties.

It won the Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 and ousted rival forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority, from the Gaza Strip in 2007.

In its 1988 charter, Hamas sets out its commitment to “obliterate” Israel and “raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine”, according to the Israeli embassy.

In November 2021, the UK Government proscribed the entirety of Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

The leader of Hamas’s military wing, Mohammed Deif, said the incursion was in response to the 16-year blockade of Gaza, Israeli raids inside West Bank cities over the past year, violence at Al Aqsa – the disputed Jerusalem holy site – increasing attacks by settlers on Palestinians and growth of settlements, the Associated Press (AP) has reported.

He said the attack was only the start of what he called Operation Al-Aqsa Storm and called on Palestinians from east Jerusalem to northern Israel to join the fight, AP added.

Hamas has reportedly also demanded that all Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, an estimated 4,500 detainees, be freed in exchange for dozens of captured Israeli soldiers and civilians.

Smoke rises after the Israeli air strike in the Gaza Strip on Monday
Smoke rises after the Israeli air strike in the Gaza Strip on Monday (Fatima Shbair/AP)

The Occupied Palestinian Territories encompass the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which includes East Jerusalem, with the latter ruled by the more moderate Fatah party of President Abbas.

– Why is the date of the attack significant?

Hamas attacked Israel on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah, nearly 50 years to the day after Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on the Jewish state on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, on October 6 1973 in a bid to retake Israeli-occupied territories.

Simchat Torah celebrates the annual Torah reading cycle, while the 1973 conflict ended with a ceasefire on October 25 that year.

(PA Graphics)

After the British captured Palestine from the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, the United Nations (UN) proposed partitioning it into two independent states – one Palestinian Arab and the other Jewish.

But in 1948 one state proclaimed its independence as Israel and, after a war involving neighbouring Arab countries, it expanded into most of the territory of former Palestine as “over half of the Palestinian Arab population fled or were expelled”, the UN said.

It has been disputed ever since, with numerous wars fought over the decades.

Palestinians inspect the rubble of a mosque after it was hit by an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City
Palestinians inspect the rubble of a mosque after it was hit by an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City (Adel Hana/AP)

Other significant flare-ups included the two Palestinian intifadas, an Arabic term for uprisings, which started in 1987 and in 2000 respectively and led to thousands being killed and injured on both sides.

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