Gaza Strip (gäz´ə), (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 and, since 2007, the Israeli blockade.
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 Gaza Strip is also the main base for the Islamic Jihad, another militant Palestinian group. 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 control. 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.
In response to ongoing rocket attacks from region, 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. In May, 2010, a Turkish aid convoy challenging the blockade was boarded in international waters in a deadly raid by Israeli forces. The raid, which was widely condemned internationally, focused global attention on the blockade; Egypt subsequently reopened its border crossing, and Israel eased its blockade on imports somewhat.
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. In 2011 the head of the latter said he no longer believed Israel had targeted civilians as a matter of policy, but his coauthors defended their report.
Sporadic rocket and mortar attacks and Israeli air strikes, as well as minor cross-border incursions, continued. In Nov., 2012, Israeli air strikes, including one that killed the Hamas military chief, sparked the most intense cross-border attacks in four years. A new round of cross-border attacks began in July, 2014, after Israeli blamed Hamas for the murder of three teenage settlers in the West Bank and launched air strikes against the Gaza Strip, leading to a ground offensive by Israel; a cease-fire was established in August. Some 2,200 died in the fighting, the majority Palestinian civilians.