Definitions

Gaza Strip

Gaza Strip

Gaza Strip, (2007 pop. 1,416,543) rectangular coastal area, c.140 sq mi (370 sq km), SW Asia, on the Mediterranean Sea adjoining Egypt and Israel, in what was formerly SW Palestine, now officially administered by the Palestinian Authority.

People and Economy

The Gaza Strip is a densely populated and impoverished region inhabited primarily by Sunni Muslim Palestinian refugees; the majority live in large, overcrowded refugee camps. Arabic, Hebrew, and English are spoken. The city of Gaza is the principal city and administrative center. Other cities include Beit Lahia in the north and Khan Yunis and Rafah in the south. There were about 7,000 Israeli settlers living in 21 semimunicipal developments in the Gaza Strip until the settlements were evacuated in 2005. The number of inhabitants has fluctuated with tensions in the Middle East, increasing greatly due to the Arab-Israeli Wars.

The Gaza Strip has small construction and handicrafts industries, and some farming, including citrus fruits, olives, and livestock. However, Gaza depends on Israel for nearly 90% of its imports (largely food, consumer goods, and construction materials) and exports (mainly citrus fruit and other agricultural products), as well as employment. The economy, such as it is, has been devastated by recent fighting.

History

Between 1917 and 1948 the region was part of Great Britain's Palestine mandate from the League of Nations. After the armistice agreement of 1949 until the 1967 war (with the exception of the Israeli occupation from Nov., 1956, to Mar., 1957), the Gaza Strip was under Egyptian administration; the 1948 Arab-Israeli war led to an influx of Palestinian Arab refugees that tripled the region's population. However, the Palestinians were never given Egyptian citizenship, thereby remaining stateless. After the 1967 war, Israel occupied the region and established settlements there, but autonomy for the area was promised by the 1978 Camp David accords.

With the inception of the Palestinian uprising (Intifada) in Gaza in 1987, the city became a major center of political unrest and violence, and the Gaza Strip remained under frequent military curfew, imposed by Israeli troops sent to quell violence and maintain order. High unemployment and low wages have been chronic problems. As a result of the Persian Gulf War (1991), masses of Palestinian workers in that region fled back to their families in the Gaza Strip, creating a dire economic crisis and greater unemployment.

In 1993 an accord between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) called for limited self-rule in the area. Under a May, 1994, agreement, Israel's occupying forces left much of the Gaza Strip and a Palestinian police force was deployed. Israel retained frontier areas and buffer zones around Israeli settlements. The breakdown in peace talks in 2000 and the subsequent resumption of violence hurt the local economy. Although the Gaza Strip saw less fighting with Israelis than the West Bank, in 2003 the Israeli army moved more aggressively to control sections of the Gaza Strip in response to Palestinian attacks. The Israelis also launched attacks against leaders of Hamas, which has many supporters in the territory and has carried out many suicide attacks. The area also was the scene of fighting between PLO-dominated Palestinian Authority forces and Hamas.

In Jan., 2004, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon announced a plan for the withdrawal of all Israeli settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip, and it was subsequently adopted by his government. The settlements were evacuated in Aug., 2005, and Israeli forces withdrew the following month. The Strip threatened to descend into anarchic violence after the withdrawal, with the Palestinian Authority unable to exert effective control over the territory. The Gaza Strip also continued to be a source of attacks against Israel and suffer retaliatory Israeli attacks. These escalated into open warfare in June, 2006, after Hamas guerrillas captured an Israeli soldier and Israel invaded the Gaza Strip, and in the following months Israel continued to mount operations into the territory.

The situation in Gaza became economically dire as a result of continual conflict (some of it between Hamas and Al Fatah) and the restricted funding available to the Palestinian Authority. In June, 2007, the fighting between Palestinians ended with Al Fatah's defeat, placing the Gaza Strip under Hamas's rule. The region nonetheless continued to be the scene of intra-Palestinian conflict, and Israel subsequently restricted the flow of goods into Gaza to humanitarian aid. As a result of ongoing rocket attacks from region into Israel, Israel tightened its blockade of the Gaza Strip in Jan., 2008; the resulting shortages led Hamas to force open the Egyptian border, which had mainly been closed since 2005, for several days. Continuing rocket attacks led to Israeli air and ground attacks against targets in the Gaza Strip.

In June, 2008, a six-month cease-fire was established with Israel that included a partial reopening of the border. The cease-fire largely held until a significant outbreak of fighting in Nov., 2008, and was officially ended the next month. Late in Dec., 2008, Israel mounted an offensive against Hamas, with ground operations in Jan., 2009. Some 1,300 persons, about half of whom were civilians, died in the Gaza Strip before Israel and Hamas separately declared cease-fires in mid-January and Israeli forces withdrew; more than 20,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed. Both sides subsequently were accused of war crimes by international human-rights organizations and a UN fact-finding mission. Sporadic rocket attacks and Israeli air strikes have continued.

Arabic Qitsubdotāayn Ghazzah Hebrew Rezsubdotuaynat aynAzza

Territory, southeastern Mediterranean Sea coast. Occupying 140 sq mi (363 sq km) northeast of the Sinai Peninsula, it is also the location of the city of Gaza, which has been a prosperous trading centre for much of its history and was first mentioned in the 15th century BC. Often besieged by invaders, including Israelites, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians, it declined in importance after the Crusades. It was ruled by the Ottoman Empire from the 16th century. After World War I (1914–18) the city and the strip became part of the British mandate of Palestine. Following the first Arab-Israeli war (1948–49), the territory was occupied by Egypt, and the city became that country's headquarters in Palestine. The occupied area was later reduced to an area 25 mi (40 km) long, which became known as the Gaza Strip, still under Egyptian control. In the Six-Day War (1967) it was captured by Israel. The area's chief economic problem was the extreme poverty of the large number of Palestinian Arab refugees living there. In 1987, rioting among Gaza's Palestinians marked the beginning of the first intifādsubdotah. Continued unrest led in 1993 to an agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization granting limited self-rule to the Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. A breakdown in further negotiations in 2000 led to another outbreak of violence. In an attempt to stem the fighting, Israel withdrew all its soldiers and settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, and control of the territory was transferred to the Palestinians.

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The Gaza Strip (قطاع غزة , רצועת עזה Retzu'at 'Azza) is a coastal strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea, bordering Egypt on the south-west and Israel on the north and east. It is about long, and between 6 and 12 kilometers (4–7.5 mi) wide, with a total area of .

The territory takes its name from Gaza, its main city. It has about 1.4 million Palestinian Arab (or Gazan) residents.

Governance

The Gaza Strip is not recognized internationally as part of any sovereign country. It is claimed by the Palestinian National Authority as part of the Palestinian territories, though following the June 2007 battle of Gaza, actual control of the area is in the hands of the de facto government dominated by Hamas. Israel, which governed the Gaza Strip from 1967-2005, still controls the strip's airspace, territorial water and offshore maritime access, as well as its side of the Gaza-Israeli border. Egypt, which governed the Gaza Strip from 1948-1967 controls the southern border between the Gaza strip and the Sinai dessert.

History

Ancient history until mid 16th century (15th century BC-1517)

The first recorded mention of the city of Gaza was a reference by Pharaoh Thutmose II (18th dynasty; 15th century BC), though the actual habitation no doubt predates that official record. It is also mentioned in the Amarna letters, an archive of clay tablets with diplomatic and administrative correspondence between the Egyptian administration and its representatives in Canaan and Amurru in the New Kingdom. The first mention of Gaza in the Bible is in Joshua 10:41, which took place around 1451 B.C. according to Ussher's chronology.

Because of its strategic position on the ancient trade route of Via Maris, linking Egypt with the northern empires of Syria, Anatolia and Mesopotamia, Gaza experienced little peace in antiquity. Throughout its history it was a prosperous trade center, sitting as it does on the ancient Sea Road.

The area was under Egyptian occupation for over 300 years when the Philistines took control and settled the city and surrounding area. Gaza became an important Philistine trading center and part of the Pentapolis (league of five cities).

The Bible makes a reference to Gaza as the place where Samson was delivered into bondage by Delilah and where he died while toppling the temple of the god Dagon. King Saul's head was displayed in a temple of Dagon by the Philistines in 1 Chronicles 10:8-10. The Philistines occupied the five cities of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath, along the coastal strip of south-western Canaan, that belonged to Egypt up to the closing days of the Nineteenth Dynasty (ended 1185 BCE). According to the bible the coastal city of Gath fell to the Israelite King David circa 1000 BC. (1 Chronicles 18, 1.) Gath as part of Judah fell to Hazael, King of Aram Damascus in the 9th century BCE when the Syrian King forced the tribes of Judah to become refugees. (II Kings 13, 5)

The area fell to the Assyrians in 732 BC, to the Egyptians, to the Babylonians in 586 BC, Persians in 525 BC, and the Macedonians. Macedonian ruler Alexander the Great met stiff resistance there in 332 BC. After conquering it, he sold its inhabitants into slavery.

In 145 BC the Gaza strip was conquered by Jonathan the Hasmonean (Brother of Judah the Maccabee). Alexander Balas granted the victorious Jonathan Maccabaeus the city of Ekron along with its outlying territory after the siege of Jaffa under Apollonius Taos, governor of Coele-Syria. Ashkelon submitted voluntarily while Gaza was forcibly taken.. In Hellenistic and Roman times the harbour, about 3 miles (5 km) from the city proper, was called Neapolis (Greek: “New City”).

It was conquered by Arabs in the 630s after a siege during which the Jewish population of the city defended it alongside the Byzantine garrison. Believed to be the site where Muhammad's great grandfather was buried, the city became an important Islamic center. In the 12th century, Gaza was taken by Christian Crusaders; it fell to Ayyubid control in 1187.

Ottoman and British control (1517-1948)

In 1517 Gaza fell to the Ottomans and was part of the Ottoman Empire until the First World War.

Starting in the early 19th century, Gaza was culturally dominated by neighboring Egypt. Though part of the Ottoman Empire, a large number of its residents were Egyptians (and their descendants) who had fled political turmoil.

The region served as a battlefield during the First World War (1914-18). The Gaza Strip was taken by the British in the Third Battle of Gaza on 7 November 1917.

Following World War I, Gaza became part of the British Mandate of Palestine under the authority of the League of Nations.

Jews were present in Gaza until 1929, when revisionist Zionist Betar mobs at the western wall incited violence, the Mufti Haj Amin El Husseini spoke out this led to riots, killing 67 Jews, and over 200 Arab Palestinians and forced the Gaza Jews to leave the area. After that the British prohibited Jews from living in the Gaza area, though some Jews returned and, in 1946, established kibbutz Kfar Darom near the Egyptian border.

British rule of Palestine ended with the Israeli War of Independence in 1948.

Egyptian occupation (1948-67)

According to the terms of the 1947 United Nations partition plan, the Gaza area was to become part of a new Arab state. Following the dissolution of the British mandate of Palestine and 1947-1948 Civil War in Palestine, Israel declared its independence in May 1948. The Egyptian army invaded the area from the south, starting the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

The Gaza Strip as it is known today was the product of the subsequent 1949 Armistice Agreements between Egypt and Israel, often referred to as the Green Line. Egypt occupied the Strip from 1949 (except for four months of Israeli occupation during the 1956 Suez Crisis) until 1967. The Strip's population was greatly augmented by an influx of Palestinian Arab refugees who fled or were expelled from Israel during the fighting.

Towards the end of the war, the All-Palestine Government (Arabic: حكومة عموم فلسطين hukumat 'umum Filastin) was proclaimed in Gaza City on 22 September 1948 by the Arab League. It was conceived partly as an Arab League attempt to limit the influence of Transjordan over the Palestinian issue. The government was not recognized by Transjordan or any non-Arab country. It was little more than a façade under Egyptian control, had negligible influence or funding, and subsequently moved to Cairo. Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip or Egypt were issued All-Palestine passports until 1959, when Gamal Abdul Nasser, President of Egypt, annulled the All-Palestine government by decree.

Egypt never annexed the Gaza Strip, but instead treated it as a controlled territory and administered it through a military governor. The refugees were never offered Egyptian citizenship.

During the Sinai campaign of November 1956, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula were overrun by Israeli troops. International pressure soon forced Israel to withdraw.

Israeli occupation (1967-1994)

Israel occupied the Gaza Strip again in June 1967 during the Six-Day War. The military occupation lasted for 27 years, until 1994. However, according to the Oslo Accords, Israel retains control of air space, territorial waters, offshore maritime access, the population registry, entry of foreigners, imports and exports as well as the tax system.

During the period of Israeli occupation, Israel created a settlement bloc, Gush Katif in the south west corner of the Strip near Rafah and the Egyptian border. In total Israel created 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip, comprising some 20% of the total territory. Besides ideological reasons for being there, these settlements also served Israel's security concerns. The Gaza Strip remained under Israeli military administration until 1994. During that period the military administration was also responsible for the maintenance of civil facilities and services.

In March 1979 Israel and Egypt signed the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty. Among other things, the treaty provided for the withdrawal by Israel of its armed forces and civilians from the Sinai Peninsula which Israel had captured during the Six-Day War. The final status of the Gaza Strip as with relations between Israel and Palestinians was not dealt with in the treaty. The treaty did settle the international border between Gaza Strip and Egypt. Egypt renounced all territorial claims to the region beyond the international border.

In May 1994, following the Palestinian-Israeli agreements known as the Oslo Accords, a phased transfer of governmental authority to the Palestinians took place. Much of the Strip (except for the settlement blocs and military areas) came under Palestinian control. The Israeli forces left Gaza City and other urban areas, leaving the new Palestinian Authority to administer and police the Strip. The Palestinian Authority, led by Yasser Arafat, chose Gaza City as its first provincial headquarters. In September 1995, Israel and the PLO signed a second peace agreement extending the Palestinian Authority to most West Bank towns. The agreement also established an elected 88-member Palestinian National Council, which held its inaugural session in Gaza in March 1996.

The PA rule of the Gaza Strip and West Bank under leadership of Arafat suffered from serious mismanagement and corruption. Exorbitant bribes were demanded for allowing goods to pass in and out of the Gaza Strip, while heads of the Preventive Security Service apparatus profited from their involvement in the gravel import and cement and construction industries, like the Great Arab Company for Investment and Development, the al-Motawaset Company and the al-Sheik Zayid construction project.

The Second Intifada broke out in September 2000. In February 2005, the Israeli government voted to implement a unilateral disengagement plan from the Gaza Strip. The plan began to be implemented on 15 August 2005 (the day after Tisha B'av) and was completed on 12 September 2005. Under the plan, all Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip (and four in the West Bank) and the nearby Erez bloc were dismantled with the removal of all 9,000 Israeli settlers (most of them in the Gush Katif settlement area in the Strip's southwest) and military bases. On 12 September 2005 the Israeli cabinet formally declared an end to Israeli military rule in the Gaza Strip. To avoid any allegation that it was still in occupation of any part of the Gaza Strip, Israel also withdrew from the Philadelphi Route, which is a narrow strip adjacent to the Strip's border with Egypt, after Egypt's agreement to secure its side of the border. Under the Oslo Accords the Philadelphi Route was to remain under Israeli control, to prevent the smuggling of materials (such as ammunition) and people across the border with Egypt. With Egypt agreeing to patrol its side of the border, it was hoped that the objective would be achieved.

Palestinian Authority control (1994-2007)

In accordance with the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority took over the administrative authority of the Gaza Strip (other than the settlement blocs and military areas) in 1994. After the complete Israeli withdrawal of Israeli settlers and military from the Gaza Strip on 12 September 2005, the Palestinian Authority had complete administrative authority in the Gaza Strip.

Since the Israeli withdrawal the Rafah Border Crossing has been supervised by EU Border Assistance Mission Rafah under an Agreement finalised in November 2005.

Israel continues to assert control over activities that rely on transit through Israel, as well as air space over and sea access to ports in Gaza. Israel approves all immigration to and emigration from Gaza via Israel, as well as entry by foreigners via Israel, imports and exports via Israel, and collection and reimbursement of value-added tax in Israel.

Palestinians and others maintain that the Israeli occupation is not over because of this Israeli control instead of a military occupation, they are now in a state of siege. The Israeli human rights organization B'tselem said in November 2006 that "the broad scope of Israeli control in the Gaza Strip creates a strong case for the claim that Israel's occupation of the Gaza Strip continue. University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies, law professor Iain Scobbie noted in 2006 that "Israel retains absolute authority over Gaza’s airspace and territorial sea. It is manifestly exercising governmental authority in these areas.... it is clear that Israeli withdrawal of land forces did not terminate occupation. And according to some Palestinians, Israel's occupation of the Gaza Strip continued. "They control the water, the sky and the passages. How can you say occupation is over?" said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in 2005. Similar viewpoints have been presented by many other Palestinian organizations and leaders. The Al Mezan Center for Human Rights also argues that the Gaza Strip remains occupied by Israel.

Prior to Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the United States considered the Gaza Strip to be an Israel-occupied territory. Following the withdrawal, no official US government statement has been made on the status of the Strip. However, the CIA World Factbook (an official U.S. government publication), which was last updated in 2007, continues to list the Gaza Strip as an Israeli-occupied territory.

Israel says that Gaza is no longer occupied as it does not exercise effective control or authority over any land or institutions in the Gaza Strip. In the fourth section of The Hague convention of 1907, article 42 states defines occupation: 'Territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised.' For some, it seems clear that Israel is in no such position regarding the Gaza Strip, as the IDF doesn't control any part of Gaza anymore. Israel doesn't administer any property belonging to Gazans (besides controlling all imports and exports) nor any means of transportation (except for the naval blockade). The Hague convention also implies that occupation is a condition applying between states. When the Israeli army left Gaza, an unclear legal situation was created, as Gaza does not belong to any sovereign state. Moreover, for some, the Hague convention obligations for the occupying state imply that, if Israel would still occupy Gaza, this would mean it has the right and even the duty to maintain law and order there.

Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections. However, when a Hamas-controlled government was formed, continuing to refuse to recognize Israel, renounce violence and agree to honour agreements previously made by the PLO, Israel, the United States, Canada, and the European Union froze all funds to the Hamas-controlled government. They view Hamas as a terrorist organization.

In December 2006, news reports indicated that a number of Palestinians were leaving the Gaza Strip, due to political disorder and economic stagnation there.

In January 2007, fighting continued between Hamas and Fatah, without any progress towards resolution or reconciliation. The deadliest clashes occurred in the northern Gaza Strip, where General Muhammed Gharib, a senior commander of the Fatah-dominated Preventative Security Force, died when a rocket hit his home. Gharib's two daughters and two bodyguards were also killed in the attack, which was carried out by Hamas gunmen.

At the end of January 2007, it appeared that a newly-negotiated truce between Fatah and Hamas was starting to take hold . However, after a few days, new fighting broke out. Fatah fighters stormed a Hamas-affiliated university in the Gaza Strip. Officers from Abbas' presidential guard battled Hamas gunmen guarding the Hamas-led Interior Ministry.

In May 2007, the deal between Hamas and Fatah appeared to be weaker, as new fighting broke out between the factions. This was considered a major setback. Interior Minister Hani Qawasmi, who had been considered a moderate civil servant acceptable to both factions, resigned due to what he termed harmful behavior by both factions.

Fighting spread in the Gaza Strip with both factions attacking vehicles and facilities of the other side. In response to constant attacks by rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, Israel launched an air strike which destroyed a building used by Hamas. Some Palestinians said the violence could bring the end of the Fatah-Hamas coalition government, and possibly the end of the Palestinian authority.

Hamas spokeman Moussa Abu Marzouk placed the blame for the worsening situation in the Strip upon Israel, stating that the constant pressure of economic sanctions upon Gaza resulted in the "real explosion". Expressions of concerns were received from many Arab leaders, with many offering to try to help by doing some diplomatic work between the two factions. One journalist wrote an eyewitness account stating:

Today I have seen people shot before my eyes, I heard the screams of terrified women and children in a burning building, and I argued with gunmen who wanted to take over my home.

I have seen a lot in my years as a journalist in Gaza, but this is the worst it's been.

Hamas control (2007-present)

In June 2007, the Palestinian Civil War between Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement) and Fatah (Palestine Liberation Movement) intensified. Hamas routed Fatah after winning the democratic election, and by 14 June 2007, the Gaza Strip was completely overrun by Hamas, which now effectively controlled the Gaza Strip and proclaimed itself to be the legitimate government of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas responded by declaring a state of emergency, dissolving the unity government and forming a new government without Hamas participation. PNA security forces in the West Bank arrested a number of Hamas members and closed some Hamas offices.

After Hamas' victory in June, it started ousting Fatah-linked officials from positions of power and authority in the Strip (such as government positions, security services, universities, newspapers etc) and strove to enforce law in the Strip by progressively removing guns from the hands of peripheral militias, clans, and criminal groups, and gaining control of smuggling tunnels. According to Amnesty International, under Hamas rule, newspapers have been closed down and journalists have been harassed. Fatah demonstrations have been forbidden or suppressed, as in the case of a large demonstration on the anniversary of Yasser Arafat's death, which resulted in the deaths of seven people by Hamas, after protesters hurled stones at Hamas security forces.

Christians are being threatened and assaulted in the Gaza Strip. The owner of a Christian bookshop was abducted and murdered,, and on February 15, 2008, the Christian Youth Organization's library in Gaza City was bombed. Hamas condemns these attacks.

Since the refusal by Israel and its allies to recognize the democratic election of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the EU Border Monitors at the Rafah Crossing have not been able to perform their functions under the Agreement, citing security concerns, resulting in the Rafah Crossing being mostly closed. The only land access into the Strip to Israel is via the Erez and Karni crossings. Meanwhile Israeli and Egyptian security reports claim that Hamas continued smuggling in large quantities of explosives and arms from Egypt through tunnels. Egyptian security forces uncovered 60 tunnels in 2007.

While clamping down on lawlessness in the Strip, Hamas and other armed groups have continued to fire Qassam rockets from the Strip across the border into Israel, targeting nearby Israeli localities. According to Israel, since the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip until the end of January 2008, 697 rockets and 822 mortar bombs have been fired at Israeli towns. In response, Israel targeted Qassam launchers and military targets and on September 19, 2007, declared the Gaza Strip a hostile entity, to make it possible to cut fuel and electricity supplies. In January 2008 the situation escalated and Israel curtailed travel from Gaza and entry of goods, and decided to cut fuel supplies to the Strip on January 19, resulting in power shortages. This brought charges that Israel was inflicting collective punishment on the Gaza population, leading to international condemnation. Despite multiple reports from within the Strip that food and other essentials were in extremely short supply, Israel countered that Gaza had enough food and energy supplies for weeks. In early March 2008, air strikes and ground incursions into the Strip by the IDF led to the deaths of over 110 Palestinians mostly civilians, and extensive damage to Jabalia.

Current situation

Abbas' government has won widespread international support. Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia said in late June 2007 that the West Bank-based Cabinet formed by Abbas was the sole legitimate Palestinian government, and Egypt moved its embassy from Gaza to the West Bank.. The Hamas government in the Gaza Strip faces international diplomatic and economic isolation.

However, both Saudi Arabia and Egypt support reconciliation and the forming of a new unity government, and press Abbas to start serious talks with Hamas. Abbas has always conditioned this on Hamas ceding control of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority. Hamas is supported by Syria and Iran, and is believed to have brought in large sums of money from the latter. Hamas fighters are also believed to have received training in Iran. Hamas has been invited to and has visited a number of countries, including Russia, and in the USA and EU countries, opposition parties and politicians have called for a dialogue with Hamas and an end to the economic sanctions.

On January 23, 2008, after months of preparation during which the steel reinforcement of the border barrier was weakened, Hamas destroyed several parts of the wall dividing Gaza and Egypt in the town of Rafah. Hundreds of thousands of Gazans crossed the border into Egypt seeking food and supplies. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ordered his troops to allow the Palestinians in, due to the crisis, but to verify that they did not bring weapons back. Egypt arrested and later released several armed Hamas militants in the Sinai who presumably wanted to infiltrate into Israel. At the same time, Israel increased its state of alert along the length of the Israel-Egypt Sinai border, and warned its citizens to leave Sinai "without delay". The EU Border Monitors have indicated their readiness to return to monitor the border, should Hamas guarantee their safety; while the Palestinian Authority has demanded that Egypt deal only with the Authority in negotiations relating to borders. Israel has eased up some influx of goods and medical supplies to the strip, but it has curtailed electricity by 5% in one of its ten lines, while Hamas and Egypt have shored up some of the gaping holes between the two areas. The first attempts by Egypt to reclose the border were met by violent clashes with Gaza gunmen, but after 12 days the borders were sealed again. In mid-February there had still been no agreement reached between the parties on conditions for reopening the Rafah crossing. In February 2008 an Haaretz poll indicated that 64% of Israelis favour their government holding direct talks with Hamas in Gaza about a cease-fire and to secure the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was abducted in a cross border raid by Palestinian militants on 25 June 2006 and has been held hostage since.

In February 2008, Israeli-Palestinian fighting intensified with rockets launched at Israeli cities and Israel attacking Palestinian militants. An increase in rocket attacks lead to a heavy Israeli military action on March 1, resulting in over 100 Palestinians being killed according to BBC News, as well as 2 Israeli soldiers. Israeli human rights group B'Tselem estimated that 45 of those killed were not involved in hostilities, and 15 were minors.

After a round of tit for tat arrests between Fatah and Hamas in the Gaza strip and West Bank, the Hilles clan from Gaza were relocated to Jericho on 4 August 2008.

Geography

The Gaza Strip is located in the Middle East (at ). It has a border with Israel, and an 11 km border with Egypt, near the city of Rafah. Khan Yunis is located northeast of Rafah, and several towns around Deir el-Balah are located along the coast between it and Gaza City. Beit Lahia and Beit Hanoun are located to the north and northeast of Gaza City, respectively. The Gush Katif bloc of Israeli localities used to exist on the sand dunes adjacent to Rafah and Khan Yunis, along the southwestern edge of the Mediterranean coastline.

Gaza strip has a temperate climate, with mild winters, and dry, hot summers subject to drought. The terrain is flat or rolling, with dunes near the coast. The highest point is Abu 'Awdah (Joz Abu 'Auda), at above sea level. Natural resources include arable land (about a third of the strip is irrigated), and recently discovered natural gas. Environmental issues include desertification; salination of fresh water; sewage treatment; water-borne disease; soil degradation; and depletion and contamination of underground water resources.

The Strip currently holds the oldest known remains of a man-made bonfire, and some of the world's oldest dated human skeletons. It occupies territory similar to that of ancient Philistia, and is occasionally known by that name.

Demographics

In 2007 approximately 1.4 million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip, of whom almost 1.0 million are UN-registered refugees. The majority of the Palestinians are descendants of refugees who fled from their homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The Strip's population has continued to increase since that time, one of the main reasons being a total fertility rate of more than 5 children per woman. In a ranking by total fertility rate, this places Gaza 19th of 222 regions.

The vast majority of the population are Sunni Muslims, with an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 Christians. The Christian population has been shrinking since Hamas' takeover, due to tensions with the Muslim community and economic sanctions imposed by Israel. In December 2007, Israel has permitted 400 Gaza Christians to travel through Israel to Bethlehem for Christmas. While they are strictly travel permits, many Christian families are taking the opportunity to settle in the West Bank, despite the illegality.

One of the largest foreign communities in the Gaza Strip was the approximately 500 women from the former Soviet Union. During the Soviet era, the Communist Party subsidized university studies for thousands of students from Yemen, Egypt, Syria and the territories. Some of them got married during their studies and brought their Russian and Ukrainian wives back home. However, over half of them were able to leave the Strip via the Erez crossing to Amman within days of Hamas's takeover. From there they have flown back to Eastern Europe.

Economy

Economic output in the Gaza Strip declined by about one-third between 1992 and 1996. This downturn has been variously attributed to corruption and mismanagement by Yasser Arafat, and to Israeli closure policies—the imposition of generalized border closures which disrupted previously established labor and commodity market relationships between Israel and the Strip. A serious negative social effect of this downturn was the emergence of high unemployment.

Israel's use of comprehensive closures decreased during the next few years and, in 1998, Israel implemented new policies to reduce the impact of closures and other security procedures on the movement of Palestinian goods and labor into Israel. These changes fueled an almost three-year-long economic recovery in the Gaza Strip. Recovery ended with the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada in the last quarter of 2000. The al-Aqsa Intifada triggered tight IDF closures of the border with Israel, as well as frequent curbs on traffic in Palestinian self-rule areas, severely disrupting trade and labor movements. In 2001, and even more severely in early 2002, internal turmoil and Israeli military measures in Palestinian Authority areas resulted in the destruction of capital plant and administrative structure, widespread business closures, and a sharp drop in GDP. Another major factor has been the decline of income earned due to reduction in the number of Gazans permitted entry to work in Israel. After the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, the flow of a limited number of workers into Israel again resumed, although Israel has stated its intention to reduce or end such permits due to the victory of Hamas in the 2006 parliamentary elections.

The Israeli settlers of Gush Katif built greenhouses and experimented with new forms of agriculture. These greenhouses also provided employment for many hundred Gazan Palestinians. When Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in the Summer of 2005, the greenhouses were purchased with money raised by former World Bank president James Wolfensohn, and given to the Palestinian people to jump-start their economy. However, the effort faltered due to limited water supply, inability to export produce due to Israeli border restrictions, and corruption in the Palestinian Authority. Most of the greenhouses were subsequently looted or destroyed.

According to the CIA World Factbook, GDP in 2001 declined 35% to a per capita income of $625 a year, and 60% of the population is now below the poverty line. Gaza Strip industries are generally small family businesses that produce textiles, soap, olive-wood carvings, and mother-of-pearl souvenirs; the Israelis have established some small-scale modern industries in an industrial center. Israel supplies the Gaza Strip with electricity. The main agricultural products are olives, citrus, vegetables, Halal beef, and dairy products. Primary exports are citrus and cut flowers, while primary imports are food, consumer goods, and construction materials. The main trade partners of the Gaza Strip are Israel, Egypt, and the West Bank.

Before the second Palestinian uprising broke out in September 2000, around 25,000 workers from the Gaza Strip used to work in Israel every day.

Israel, the United States, Canada, and the European Union have frozen all funds to the Palestinian government after the formation of a Hamas-controlled government after its victory in the 2006 Palestinian legislative election. They view the group as a terrorist organization, and have pressured Hamas to recognize Israel, renounce violence, and agree to past agreements. Since Israel's withdrawal and its subsequent blockade, the gross domestic product of the Gaza Strip has been crippled. The enterprise and industry of the former Jewish villages has been impaired, and the previously established work relationships between Israel and the Gaza Strip have been disrupted. Job opportunities in Israel for Gaza Palestinians have been largely lost. Prior to disengagement, 120,000 Palestinians from Gaza were employed in Israel or in joint projects. Only about 20,000 have been able to keep these jobs.

After the seizure by Hamas militias of the Gaza Strip on 14 June 2007, all contact between the outside world and the Strip has been severed. The only goods permitted into the Strip through the land crossings are goods of a humanitarian nature.

Health

A study carried out by Johns Hopkins University (USA) and Al-Quds University (in Jerusalem) for CARE International in late 2002 revealed very high levels of dietary deficiency among the Palestinian population. The study found that 17.5% of children aged 6–59 months suffered from chronic malnutrition. 53% of women of reproductive age and 44% of children were found to be anemic. In the aftermath of the Israeli withdrawal of August and September 2005, the healthcare system in Gaza continues to face severe challenges.After the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip and the subsequent Israeli declaration of Gaza Strip as a "hostile entity", the health conditions in Gaza Strip faces new challenges exacerbated by the intensified Israeli closure. The WHO expressed its concerns about the consequences of the Palestinian internal political fragmentation; the socioeconomic decline; military actions; and the Physical, psychological and economic isolation on the health of the population in Gaza.

Gazans requiring medical care in Israeli hospitals have to apply for a medical permit. In 2007, Israel granted 7176 permits and denied 1627. Two women who had received permits were arrested at the crossing when it was found they had plans to blow themselves up in the Israeli hospital.

Transport and communication

The Gaza Strip has a small, poorly developed road network. It also had a single standard gauge railway line running the entire length of the Strip from north to south along its center; however, it is abandoned, in disrepair, and little trackage remains. The line once connected to the Egyptian railway system to the south, as well as the Israeli system to the north.

The strip's one port was never completed after the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada. Its airport, the Gaza International Airport, opened on 24 November 1998, as part of agreements stipulated in the Oslo II Accord and the 23 October 1998 Wye River Memorandum. The airport was closed in October 2000 by Israeli orders, and its runway was destroyed by the Israel Defense Forces in December 2001. It has since been renamed Yasser Arafat International Airport.

The Gaza Strip has rudimentary land line telephone service provided by an open-wire system, as well as extensive mobile telephone services provided by PalTel (Jawwal), or Israeli providers such as Cellcom. Gaza is serviced by four internet service providers that now compete for ADSL and dial-up customers. Most Gaza households have a radio and a TV (70%+), and approximately 20% have a personal computer. People living in Gaza have access to FTA satellite programs, broadcast TV from the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, the Israel Broadcasting Authority, and the Second Israeli Broadcasting Authority.

See also

References

External links


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