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The Gaza Strip ( ) lies on the coast of the Mediterranean Seamarker. It borders Egyptmarker on the south-west and Israelmarker on the south, east and north. It is about long, and between 6 and 12 kilometers (4–7.5 mi) wide, with a total area of . The area is recognized internationally as part of the Palestinian territoriesmarker. Actual control of the area is in the hands of Hamas, an organization that won civil parliamentary Palestinian Authority elections in 2006 and took over de facto government in the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority by way of its own armed militia in July 2007, while violently removing the Palestinian Authority's security forces and civil servants from the Gaza Strip.

The Gaza Strip was occupied by Egypt from 1948–67, and then by Israel following the 1967 war. Pursuant to the Oslo Accords signed between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation in 1993, the Palestinian Authority was set up as an interim administrative body to govern populated Palestinian centers - with Israel maintaining military control of the Gaza Strip's airspace, some of its land borders and its territorial waters - until a final agreement could be reached. As agreement remained elusive, Israel unilaterally disengaged from Gaza in 2005, saying it was no longer the Occupying Power there. The international community, citing Israel's continued effective control over the area, continues to regard it as an Occupying Power.

The territory takes its name from Gazamarker, its main city. The population is Palestinian and is estimated at about 1.5 million (July 2009). Refugees of the 1948 Palestinian exodus and their descendants made up 85% of the population as of March 2003.

History

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

The first mention of the city of Gazamarker was when the people from Caphtor island (known as the greek island Cretemarker of today) slaughtered the native people named as Avvites and took over their place . then later at the 15th century BC, where Joshua, leading the children of Israel captures Gaza, with other territory, and establishing the nation in the Holy Land. In the Old Testament, after Samson was delivered into bondage by Delilah he died while toppling the Temple of the god Dagon there.

In the 13th century BC the area was taken over by the Philistines, whose coastal power base of Philistia approximated roughly to the modern Strip. The name Palestine is derived from "Philistia" and "Philistines", via the Greek and Latin languages. The Gaza area changed hands many times over the next 2,000 years. It fell, successively, to the Israelite King David (in 1000 BC), to the Assyrians (in 732 BC), Egyptians, Babylonians (in 586 BC), Persiansmarker (in 525 BC), and Greeks. Alexander the Great met stiff resistance there (in 332 BC). After conquering it, he sold its inhabitants into slavery. It was captured by Romans in first century BC. In the decade of 640AD the whole area comprising of syria, palestine, jordan and lebenon became a part of Islamic state of Medina. Later on different Muslim dynasties ruled here for about 1500 years until first world war when British took over the control of the area.

Ottoman and British control (1517–1948)

In 1517 Gaza fell to the Ottoman empire who ruled it from 1517 to 1799. Napoleon captured Gaza City in 1799. Starting in the early 1800s, Gaza was culturally dominated by neighboring Egypt. Muhammad Ali made Gaza a part of Egypt in 1832. Though Gaza was recaptured by 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), with the British and Ottomans fighting in the Sinai and Palestine. Gaza, which controlled the coastal route, was taken by the British in the Third Battle of Gaza on 7 November 1917. The British government has financially supported the maintenance of a cemetery for fallen British soldiers from WWI.

Following World War I, Gaza became part of the British Mandate of Palestine under the authority of the League of Nations, which required Britain to implement the Balfour Declaration establishing in Palestine a "national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing should be done which might prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine." Jews were present in Gaza from antiquity until the 1929 Palestine riots, when Arabs forced the Jews to leave Gaza. After that the British prohibited Jews from living in the area, though some Jews returned and, in 1946, re-established kibbutz Kfar Darommarker in central Gaza which had been destroyed in the 1936-39 Arab revolt in Palestine.

British rule of Palestine ended with the expiration of the British Mandate and the Israeli Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948.

Egyptian control (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. However, the Arabs rejected the UN plan. When, 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, triggering 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 Linemarker. Egypt then 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 from Israel during the fighting.

Towards the end of the war, the All-Palestine Government ( ) 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 Transjordanmarker 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 Cairomarker. 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. Arab refugees from the 1948 Arab–Israeli War were never offered Egyptian citizenship.

During the Sinai campaign of November 1956, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsulamarker were occupied by Israeli troops. International pressure led Israel to withdraw.

Israeli control (1967–94)

Israel controlled the Gaza Strip again beginning in June 1967, after the Six-Day War. During the period of Israeli control, Israel created a settlement bloc, Gush Katifmarker, in the southwest corner of the Strip near Rafahmarker and the Egyptian border. In total Israel created 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip, comprising 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 occupation until 1994. During that period the military occupation 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, and other relations between Israel and Palestinians, was not dealt with in the treaty. The treaty did settle the international border between the 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 Bankmarker 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, such as 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 with its waves of protest, civil unrest and bombings against Israeli military and civilians, many of them perpetrated by suicide bombers, and the beginning of rockets and bombings of Israeli border localities by Palestinian guerrillas from Gaza Strip, especially from Hamas and Jihad Islami movements. 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, 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 joint Israeli-Palestinian Erez Industrial Zone were dismantled with the removal of all 9,000 Israeli settlers (most of them in the Gush Katifmarker 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. However, Israel maintained its control over the crossings in and out of Gaza. The Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza was monitored by the Israeli army through special surveillance cameras. Official documents such as passports, I.D. cards, export and import papers, and many others had to be approved by the Israeli army.

Israel-Gaza Strip barrier

The Israeli Gaza Strip barrier is a separation barrier first constructed under the leadership of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. It was completed in 1996, but was largely torn down by Palestinians at the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada. The stated purpose is security and counter-terrorism. Between December 2000 and June 2001, the part of the barrier separating the Gaza Strip from Israel was reconstructed. Completely encircling the Gaza Strip, the barrier is made up of wire fencing with posts, sensors, high technology observation posts and buffer zones on lands bordering Israel, and concrete and steel walls on lands bordering Egypt. A concrete wall over eight metres high equipped with electronic sensors and underground concrete barriers to prevent tunnelling was constructed in 2005, adding to the already existent steel wall running the length of the border with Egypt. Israel established a 200–300 meter buffer zone known as the "Philadelphi Route" or Philadelphi corridor. There are three main crossing points in the barrier: the northern Erez Crossingmarker into Israel, the southern Rafah Crossingmarker into Egypt, and the eastern Karni Crossingmarker used only for cargo.

Dispute over occupation status

Under international law there are certain laws of war governing military occupation, including the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 and the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel states that Gaza is no longer occupied, inasmuch as Israel does not exercise effective control or authority over any land or institutions in the Gaza Strip. Foreign Affairs Minister of Israel Tzipi Livni stated in January, 2008: “Israel got out of Gaza. It dismantled its settlements there. No Israeli soldiers were left there after the disengagement.”

However, this has been disputed because Gaza does not belong to any sovereign state and because of Israel’s effective control of the borders of Gaza, including its long sea border. Immediately after Israel withdrew in 2005, Palestine Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas stated, "the legal status of the areas slated for evacuation has not changed." Soon after Palestinian American attorney Gregory Khalil said “Israel still controls every person, every good, literally every drop of water to enter or leave the Gaza Strip. Its troops may not be there … but it still restricts the ability for the Palestinian authority to exercise control.” Human Rights Watch also contested that this ended the occupation.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs maintains an office on “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” which concerns itself with the Gaza Strip. A July 2004 opinion of the International Court of Justicemarker treated Gaza as part of the occupied territories. In his statement on the 2008–2009 Israel–Gaza conflict Richard Falk, United Nations Special Rapporteur on "the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territoriesmarker" wrote that international humanitarian law applied to Israel "in regard to the obligations of an Occupying Power and in the requirements of the laws of war." In a 2009 interview on Democracy Now Christopher Gunness, spokesperson for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) contends that Israel is an occupying power . However, Meagan Buren, Senior Adviser to the Israel Project, a Pro-Israel media group contests that characterization.Others are saying that the strip status has changed, stressing that Gaza has a border with Egypt, and saying that the fact that Israel is controlling the other borders of the Gaza Strip doesn't mean the strip is occupied under international law.

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 Crossingmarker 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.

Violence in the wake of 2006 election

In the Palestinian parliamentary elections held on January 25, 2006, Hamas won a plurality of 42.9% of the total vote and 74 out of 132 total seats (56%). When Hamas assumed power the next month, the Israeli government and the key players of the international community, the United States and the EU refused to recognize its right to govern the Palestinian Authority. Direct aid to the Palestinian government there was cut off, although some of that money was redirected to humanitarian organizations not affiliated with the government. The resulting political disorder and economic stagnation led to many Palestinians emigrating from the Gaza Strip.

In January 2007, fighting erupted between Hamas and Fatah. 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, a truce was negotiated between Fatah and Hamas. 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, new fighting broke out between the factions. 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 sides.

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. Ongoing violence prompted fear that it 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:

Hamas control (2007–present)

Hamas take-over of the Strip

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 controlled the Gaza strip. 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 Bankmarker arrested a number of Hamas members.

Abbas's government won widespread international support. In late June 2008 Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia said 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 Arabiamarker and Egypt supported reconciliation and the forming of a new unity government, and pressed Abbas to start serious talks with Hamas. Abbas had always conditioned this on Hamas returning control of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority. Hamas has been invited to and has visited a number of countries, including Russia, and in the EU countries, opposition parties and politicians called for a dialogue with Hamas and an end to the economic sanctions.

After the takeover, Israel and Egypt closed its border crossings with Gaza. Palestinian sources reported that European Union monitors fled the Rafah Border Crossingmarker, on the Gaza-Israel border for fear of being kidnapped or harmed.http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull&cid=1139395602714 Arab foreign ministers and Palestinian officials presented a united front against control of the border by Hamas.

Meanwhile, Israeli and Egyptian security reports said that Hamas continued smuggling in large quantities of explosives and arms from Egypt through tunnels. Egyptian security forces uncovered 60 tunnels in 2007.

Conditions after the Hamas take-over

After Hamas' June victory, 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 supply 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, after protesters hurled stones at Hamas security forces.

Christians were also threatened and assaulted in the Gaza Strip. The owner of a Christian bookshop was abducted and murdered, and on 15 February 2008, the Christian Youth Organization's library in Gaza City was bombed. Hamas has used hospitals and other public buildings as staging grounds for attacks and retaliation, which has resulted in Fatah responding in kind.

Hamas and other Gazan militant groups continued to fire home made Qassam rockets from the Strip across the border into Israel. According to Israel, between the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip and the end of January 2008, 697 rockets and 822 mortar bombs were fired at Israeli towns. In response, Israel targeted home made Qassam launchers and military targets and on 19 September 2007, declared the Gaza Strip a hostile entity. In January 2008 the situation escalated; Israel curtailed travel from Gaza, the entry of goods, and cut fuel supplies to the Strip on 19 January 2008, 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 and extensive damage to Jabaliamarker. The Egyptian border continues to remain closed with no significant international pressure to open it.

Barrier breach

On 23 January 2008, after months of preparation during which the steel reinforcement of the border barrier was weakened, Hamas destroyed several parts of the wallmarker dividing Gaza and Egypt in the town of Rafahmarker. Hundreds of thousands of Gazans crossed the border into Egypt seeking food and supplies. Due to the crisis, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ordered his troops to allow the Palestinians in but to verify that they did not bring weapons back across the border. 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 indicated their readiness to return to monitor the border, should Hamas guarantee their safety; while the Palestinian Authority demanded that Egypt deal only with the Authority in negotiations relating to borders. Israel eased up some influx of goods and medical supplies to the strip, but it curtailed electricity by 5% in one of its ten lines, while Hamas and Egypt 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.

By mid-February the Rafah crossing remained closed. In February 2008 a 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 captured in a cross border raid by Hamas militants on 25 June 2006 and has been held hostage since.

Conflict continues

In February 2008, Israeli-Palestinian fighting intensified with rockets launched at Israeli cities and Israel attacking Palestinian gunmen. Military aggression by Hamas led to a heavy Israeli military action on 1 March 2008, resulting in over 100 Palestinians being killed according to BBC News, as well as two 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 Jerichomarker on 4 August 2008.

Retiring Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on 11 November 2008, "The question is not whether there will be a confrontation, but when it will take place, under what circumstances, and who will control these circumstances, who will dictate them, and who will know to exploit the time from the beginning of the ceasefire until the moment of confrontation in the best possible way.”

On 14 November 2008, Gaza was blockaded by Israel in response to the rocket and mortar attacks by Hamas and other militant groups operating inside Gaza, however food, power and water can still enter from Egypt if the Egyptian authorities allow it.

After a 24-hour period in which not a single Qassam rocket or mortar was fired into Israel, on 24 November 2008 the IDF facilitated the transfer of over 30 truckloads of food, basic supplies and medicine into the Gaza Strip, and it also transferred fuel to the main power plant of the area. On 25 November 2008 Israel closed its cargo crossing with Gaza due to two rockets being shot at Israel.

Gaza war

Combined Monthly rocket & Mortar hits in Israel in 2008
Israelis killed by Palestinians in Israel (blue) and Palestinians killed by Israelis in Gaza(red)
On 27 December 2008, Israeli F-16 strike fighters launched a series of air strikes against targets in Gaza. Struck were police stations, schools, hospitals, UN warehouses, a mosque, various Hamas government buildings, a science building in the Islamic University, and a U.N.-operated elementary school in a Palestinian refugee camp. Israel said that the attack was a response to Hamas rocket attacks on southern Israel, which totaled over 3,000 in 2008, and which intensified during the few weeks preceding the operation. Palestinian medical staff said at least 434 Palestinians were killed, and at least 2,800 wounded, made up mostly civilians and some Hamas members, in the first five days of Israeli strikes on Gaza. Israel began a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip on 3 January 2009. Israel rebuffed many cease-fire calls and both sides declared unilateral cease-fires.

In total 13 Israelis and more than 1300 Palestinians were killed in the 22-day war.

After 22 days of fighting, Israel decided to stop fighting, while insisting on holding its positions, while Hamas has vowed to fight on if Israeli forces do not leave the Strip.

5,000 homes, 16 government buildings, and 20 mosques were destroyed. 25,000 homes were damaged.

Gaza blockade continues

The 2-year old blockade of the Gaza strip continued after the end of the war, although Israel allowed in limited quantities of medical humanitarian aid.

The Red Cross has released a report that argues that Israel's continued blockade is making it impossible for Gaza to recover from the war. The Red Cross says that the blockade is "strangling" the Gazan economy and also notes that the blockade has caused a shortage of basic medicines and equipment such as painkillers and x-ray film.

Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli prime minister’s office, has said that the program is of sanctions and not a blockade, but attorney Sharhabeel al-Zaeem, a legal consultant in Gaza for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), has said that the blockade is "an action outside of international law”.

As of September 2009 it was reported that according to the Arab League, Israel is waging a financial war.

Government and politics

Israel disengaged from the coastal strip in 2005. Hamas assumed administrative control of Gaza following the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections and its 2007 military victory over Fatah, the secular Palestinian nationalist party.

Geography

Principal geographical features of Israel and south-eastern Mediterranean region


The Gaza Strip is located in the Middle East (at ). It has a border with Israelmarker, and an 11 km border with Egyptmarker, near the city of Rafahmarker. Khan Yunismarker is located northeast of Rafah, and several towns around Deir el-Balahmarker are located along the coast between it and Gaza Citymarker. Beit Lahiamarker and Beit Hanounmarker are located to the north and northeast of Gaza City, respectively. The Gush Katifmarker bloc of Israeli localities used to exist on the sand dune adjacent to Rafah and Khan Yunis, along the southwestern edge of the Mediterraneanmarker 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 were driven from or left 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 30th of 222 regions and above all non-African countries except Afghanistan and Yemen.

The vast majority of the population are Sunni Muslims, with an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 Christians. In December 2007, Israel permitted 400 Gaza Christians to travel through Israel to Bethlehem for Christmas. Even though they were restricted by travel permits, many Christian families took the opportunity to settle in the West Bankmarker, despite the illegality.

One of the largest foreign communities in the Gaza Strip was the approximately 500 women from the former Soviet Unionmarker. 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 spouses 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

The economy of the Gaza Strip is severely limited by high population density, limited land access, strict internal and external security controls, the effects of Israeli military destruction of capital, and restrictions on labour and trade access across the border. Per capita income was estimated at $2909 in 2008, a position of 165th in the world. 80% of the population is 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.

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. An important hindrance to economic development is the lack of a sea harbour. A harbour was planned to be built in Gaza city with help from France and the Netherlands, but the project was bombed by Israel in 2001. Israel said that the Israeli settlement was being shot from the construction site at the harbour. As a result, any international transports (both trade and aid) have to go through Israel, which are hindered by the imposition of generalized border closures. These also 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 that lasted until 2004. 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. During the Intifada, a lot of infra-stucture had been destroyed by Israel such as the Palestine airport. 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 Katifmarker 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, some of 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, while others were demolished by the departing Israeli settlers. However, the effort faltered due to limited water supply, Palestinian looting, inability to export produce due to Israeli border restrictions, and corruption in the Palestinian Authority. Many Palestinian companies have been repairing greenhouses damaged and looted in the process of Israeli withdrawal.

Before the second Palestinian uprising broke out in September 2000, around 25,000 workers from the Gaza Strip (about 2% of the population) 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 2006 elections, fighting broke out between Fatah and Hamas, which Hamas won in the Gaza Strip on 14 June 2007. After that, all contact between the outside world and the Strip has been severed by Israel. 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 (U.S.) and Al-Quds Universitymarker (in Abu Dismarker) 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 (as opposed to 37.5% of Israeli woman and 30% of Israeli babies). In the aftermath of the Israeli withdrawal of August and September 2005, the health care 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. World Health Organization (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 who desire medical care in Israeli hospitals must apply for a medical permit. In 2007, Israel granted 7,176 permits and denied 1,627.

Culture

The Gaza Strip has been home to a significant branch of the contemporary Palestinian art movement since the mid 20th century. Prominent artists include painters Fayez Sersawi, Abdul Rahman al Muzayan and Ismail Shammout (who lived in exile much of his adult life) and new media artists Taysir Batniji (who lives in France) and Laila al Shawa (who lives in London). An emerging generation of artists is also active in nonprofit art organizations such as Windows From Gaza and Eltiqa Group, which regularly host exhibitions and events open to the public.

Religion

Adherents of Islam makes up 99.3 percent of the population and 0.7 percent of the population are Christian.

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 Airportmarker, 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 Airportmarker.

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 Cellcommarker. 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.

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