Hamas has a host of leadership bodies that perform various political, military, and social functions. General policy is set by an overarching consultative body, often called the politburo, which operates in exile. Local committees manage grassroots issues in Gaza and the West Bank.
Hamas fired rockets and mortars into Israel since the group took over the Gaza Strip in the mid- 2000s. Hamas gained the ability to build its own missiles after training with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and proxies.
In October 2023, Hamas launched a massive surprise attack on southern Israel, killing hundreds of civilians and soldiers and taking dozens more as hostages.
Israel declared war on the group in response and indicated its military is planning for a long campaign to defeat it. On several occasions this year, hundreds of Israeli forces carried out military raids in the Palestinian city of Jenin.
In January, a Palestinian man killed seven people outside a synagogue in East Jerusalem.
After a spate of terrorist attacks in Israeli cities in 2022, Israeli forces killed at least 166 Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Historical region of Palestine
To understand the history of the conflict, we first need to understand Palestine. Before 1948, Palestine was a geographical region located in the Eastern Mediterranean, bordered by modern-day Israel, Jordan and Lebanon.
It was home to a diverse population of Arabs, Jews, and Christians – as all groups had strong religious ties to the area, especially the biblical city of Jerusalem.
In 1947, the United Nations (UN) voted for Palestine to be split into separate Jewish and Arab States and for Jerusalem to become an international city.
In 1948, British leaders ceased trying to solve the conflict and Jewish leaders declared the creation of the State of Israel. This marked the end of the British rule in Palestine.
Many Palestinians objected to the creation of Israel and a war ensued. By the time the fighting ended, Israel controlled most of the territory – and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had been driven from their homes in what they call Al Nakba, or “The Catastrophe”.
There was never any peace agreement which means that more tension, disputes, and wars have continued over the following decades.
The area formerly known as Palestine is divided into three parts: the State of Israel, the West Bank (of the Jordan River), and the Gaza Strip.
What’s Gaza Strip?
The Gaza Strip is central to the current ‘war’ as it is from where Hamas entered Israel early on Saturday (7 October) and has long been a contested territory.
The air space over Gaza is controlled by Israel, which also restricts who and what goods are allowed in and out through its borders.
However, Gaza is under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority and the Strip itself is governed by Hamas.
Hamas and Israel have engaged in several wars over the years, with Hamas repeatedly firing deadly rockets at Israel – and Israel also consistently attacking Hamas with air strikes. Together, with Egypt, Israel has also blockaded the Gaza Strip since 2007, which it says is necessary for security.
Timeline of conflict-related activities:
In May 2021, the Israeli police raided Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the third-holiest site in Islam, which set off an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas that killed more than 200 Palestinians and more than 10 Israelis.
In 2018, at least 170 Palestinians were killed as Israel responded to protests along the barrier fence that separates Gaza and Israel.
In 2014, Hamas kidnapped and killed three Israeli teenagers, prompting attacks from Israel, and rocket launches from Gaza, in a conflict that killed more than 1,881 Palestinians and more than 60 Israelis.
In November 2012, Israel killed Ahmed al-Jabari, Hamas’s military chief, setting off more than a week of an exchange of fire in which more than 150 Palestinians and at least six Israelis are killed.
In January 2009, Israel and Palestinian groups declared unilateral cease-fires, then Israel withdrew from Gaza, and redeployed to the strip’s perimeter.
In response to rocket fire from Gaza, Israel launched an attack on Hamas targets in December 2008 that killed 200 Palestinians. Shortly after, they opened a ground war against Hamas. In total, 1,200 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.
In January 2006, about a year after the death of the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, the co-founder of the paramilitary organization Fatah, Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary election. One year later, Hamas seized control of Gaza, routing the Fatah forces.
Beyond the current situation, experts believe what’s now a fight between Israel and Hamas has the potential to turn into a wider war, convulsing a region that hosts many rivalries.