What is Hamas and why is it fighti

A woman holding a child pictured after an Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on 23 November

Hamas gunmen launched an unprecedented assault on Israel from the Gaza Strip on 7 October, killing 1,200 people and taking about 240 hostages.

The Israeli military responded with air strikes on Gaza, and launched a ground offensive. More than 18,600 people have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run government.

During a temporary truce that lasted seven days, Hamas released 105 hostages and Israel freed 240 Palestinian prisoners in exchange.

What is the goal of Israel’s military operation in Gaza?

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) warplanes have been carrying out strikes across Gaza while its troops move through the territory.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel has a “clear goal of destroying Hamas’s military and governing capabilities”, as well as freeing the hostages.

He also declared that Israel would have “overall security responsibility” for the Gaza Strip “for an indefinite period” after the conflict. However, Israel later said it has no plans to reoccupy the territory.

Israel has drafted 300,000 reservists for the operation, to boost its standing force of 160,000.

What is happening on the ground in Gaza?

The IDF says it has struck thousands of targets belonging to Hamas – which Israel, the UK, US and other Western powers class as a terrorist organisation.

It also says it has destroyed hundreds of tunnel shafts built underneath Gaza. Hamas has claimed that its tunnel network stretches for 500km (310 miles).

A number of hospitals in the north were caught up in intense fighting.

Satellite images suggest that nearly 100,000 Gaza buildings may have been damaged during the fighting.

North Gaza damage report (4 December 2023)

Since the ceasefire ended, Israeli troops have pushed into southern Gaza, and have taken “aggressive” action against Hamas and other armed groups in and around the city of Khan Younis.

Israel has also carried out many air strikes on Rafah, near the Egyptian border, where it has told residents of Khan Younis to flee.

There continues to be fierce fighting in the north, around Jabalia refugee camp and the Shejaiya district of Gaza City. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are thought to remain in the north.

Israel claims to have killed thousands of Hamas fighters during the war, including many commanders.

The IDF says 115 Israeli soldiers have been killed since the start of the ground offensive on 27 October. In total, 444 soldiers have been killed since 7 October, the vast majority of them in Hamas’s attacks that day.

Who are the hostages and how many have been freed?

During the 7 October attacks, Hamas took about 240 hostages. It says it hid them in “safe places and tunnels” within Gaza.

According to Israel, more than 30 of the hostages were children, and at least 10 were aged over 60. It also said about half of the hostages had foreign passports from 25 different countries.

Under a deal brokered by Qatar, a seven-day pause in fighting began on 24 November.

A Palestinian teen hugs a family member after being released
Image caption,Large crowds have been gathering in the occupied West Bank to greet Palestinians released from Israeli jails

During the truce, which ended on 1 December, 81 Israelis and dual nationals, along with 24 foreigners, were released. In return for the Israeli hostages, 240 Palestinians held in Israeli jails were freed.

The released hostages included:

  • 78 Israeli women and children
  • 23 Thai hostages1 and one Filipino
  • 3 Russian-Israelis

Hamas released four Israeli hostages before the truce agreement, and another was freed by Israeli forces.

The IDF has said 135 hostages are still being held by Hamas. Nineteen of them are presumed dead, according to Reuters news agency.

Hamas has said other armed groups in Gaza are holding hostages, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad. This could complicate any future releases.

What is the humanitarian situation in Gaza?

On Tuesday, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly supported a non-binding resolution demanding a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

The US voted against the resolution. However, President Joe Bidencriticised Israel’s “indiscriminate bombing” of Gaza.

Mr Netanyahu has admitted that Israel has been “not successful” in minimising civilian casualties, but he has insisted this is because Hamas uses Gaza’s civilian population as human shields.

More than 50,000 people have been injured since the start of the war, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says only 11 out of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are still partly functional and able to admit new patients. Only one of them is in the north.

A woman cries as she hugs an injured man after an Israeli air strike on Rafah, southern Gaza. Photo: 12 December 2023
Image caption,A woman cries as she hugs an injured man after an Israeli air strike on Rafah, southern Gaza, on Tuesday

Food is scarce in Gaza and prices have soared, meaning many people are unable to afford staples such as flour. A lack of power makes cooking difficult.

Unrwa, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, has said that 1.9 million Gaza’s residents – about 85% of the population – have been displaced and that 1.3 million of them have been sheltering in its facilities.

This includes the hundreds of thousands of people who fled the fighting in the north after an Israeli order to move south of the Wadi Gaza river valley for their own safety.

Unrwa warned that the 600,000 people in southern Gaza who have been ordered to leave their neighbourhoods because of the fighting have nowhere to go, since its own shelters are already beyond capacity.

Map showing areas of the southern Gaza Strip that the Israeli military has told residents to evacuate (10 December 2023)

Israel’s military published an online map with Gaza split into more than 600 blocks, showing areas where people should evacuate for their own safety.

But Unicef, the UN charity for children, warned that some of the “safe” zones are “tiny patches of barren land” with no water, sanitation or shelter.

Is humanitarian aid getting into Gaza?

After the 7 October attacks, Israel shut its border crossings with Gaza, preventing the usual supplies of food, water, fuel and medicine from entering the territory.

Israel allowed limited aid deliveries to resume via the Egyptian-controlled Rafah border crossing on 21 October. However, the UN says the number of lorries entering each day has been about a fifth of the daily average of 500 before the war.

On Wednesday, Israel opened the Kerem Shalom goods crossing with Gaza for security checks on aid shipments delivered via Rafah.

This could mean that more aid is able to enter Gaza each day.

However, the UN says its ability to receive incoming aid is being significantly undermined by a shortage of lorries within Gaza; the lack of fuel; telecommunications blackouts; and the increasing number of staff unable to reach the Rafah crossing safely due to the intensity of hostilities in the south.

Aid distribution has also largely stopped outside the Rafah area due to the fighting.

Palestinians line up for flour being distributed by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) in Deir Al Balah, Gaza on 7 December, 2023
Image caption,Food supplies are scarce, and there is overwhelming demand for the limited amount of flour distributed by the UN

Israel has severely limited supplies of fuel, arguing that it could be stolen by Hamas and used for military purposes.

Fuel shortages have meant that water pumps and desalination plants, waste and sanitation services, and many bakeries have been unable to function.

Hundreds of foreign passport holders – including some British and US citizens – and seriously wounded and sick Palestinians have also been allowed to leave through Rafah, but many remain.

What happened during the Hamas 7 October attacks on Israel?

On 7 October, hundreds of Hamas gunmen crossed from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel, breaking through the heavily guarded perimeter fence, landing by sea, and using paragliders.

It was the most serious cross-border attack against Israel in more than a generation.

The gunmen killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, in a series of raids on military posts, kibbutzim and a music festival, and took hostages back into Gaza.

The BBC has also seen and heard evidence of rape, sexual violence and mutilation of women during the Hamas attacks, Victims included children, teenagers and pensioners.

A young women kneels at a vigil for the hostages in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv
Image caption,A young women kneels at a vigil for the hostages in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv

The attacks came at a time of soaring Israeli-Palestinian tensions: 2023 has been the deadliest on record for Palestinians who live in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

What is Hamas and what does it want?

Hamas is a Palestinian group which has run Gaza since 2007.

The name is an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya, which means Islamic Resistance Movement.

The group wants to destroy Israel and replace it with an Islamic state.

Yahya Sinwar in 2021
Image caption,Yahya Sinwar, leader of Hamas’s political wing in Gaza, pictured in 2021

Its military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, is thought to have about 30,000 members.

Hamas has fought several wars with Israel since it took power, http://mesinpencarinenas.com/ firing thousands of rockets into Israel and carrying out other deadly attacks.

In response, Israel has repeatedly attacked Hamas with air strikes, sending in troops in 2008 and 2014.

Hamas – or in some cases the al-Qassam Brigades – has been designated a terrorist group by Israel, the US, the EU and the UK, as well as other powers.

Iran backs the group, providing funding, weapons and training.

Where is the Gaza Strip and how big is it?

The Gaza Strip is a 41km (25-mile) long and 10km-wide territory located between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea.

Map showing Israel and the Palestinian Territories and surrounding countries

Previously occupied by Egypt, Gaza was captured by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War.

Israel withdrew its troops and around 7,000 settlers from the territory in 2005.

Home to 2.2 million people, the narrow strip is one of the most densely-populated areas in the world.

Just over three-quarters of Gaza’s population – some 1.7 million people – are registered refugees or descendants of refugees, according to the UN.

Before the latest conflict, more than 500,000 people lived in eight refugee camps located across the Strip.

Israel controls the air space over Gaza and its shoreline, and strictly limits the movement of people and goods.

What is Palestine?

The West Bank and Gaza are known as the Palestinian territories. Along with East Jerusalem and Israel, they formed part of a land known as Palestine from Roman times until the mid-20th Century.

In 1948, part of Palestine became Israel, which was recognised by the United Nations the following year. The West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza are recognised as Palestine by many countries and bodies, although it does not have member status at the UN.

Those who do not recognise Israel’s right to exist also still refer to all of the land as Palestine.

The Palestinian president is Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen. He is based in the West Bank, which is under Israeli occupation.

He has been the leader of the Palestinian Authority (PA) since 2005, and represents the Fatah political party – a bitter rival of Hamas.

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