The unprecedented attack by the Hamas organisation on Israel is the latest in a violent, complex, and highly sensitive series of events in the history of the country.
According to most recent estimates, at least 1,100 people have lost their lives in the resulting open conflict after Israel retailiated with a series of devastating airstrikes.
Here we take a look at the essential context to understand why Hamas have launched their assault – and why it matters.
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Britain took control of the area known as Palestine after the ruler of that part of the Middle East, the Ottoman Empire, was defeated in World War One. The land was at that time inhabited by a Arab majority and a Jewish minority.
Britain then sought to create a “national home” in Palestine for Jewish people. The number of Jewish people there rapidly grew during World War Two as they fled persecution in Europe and the Holocaust.
The land is of holy significance for both Jewish and Islamic people, and tensions soon grew between Jewish people and Palestinian Arabs in the area.
In 1947, the UN voted for Palestine to be split into separate Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem becoming an international city – a decree which Jewish people accepted, but Arab leaders did not.
When British rulers left Palestine, Jewish leaders created the state of Israel. A series of wars then raged throughout the 20th century over ownership of the land.
The Gaza Strip and West Bank
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The Gaza Strip refers to a stretch of land that borders Israel, Egypt and the Meditteranean sea, and is the home of Palestinians following decades of wars with Israel.
It has one of the highest population densities in the world, with about 2.3 million people in the 41km (25-mile) long and 10km-wide territory.
West Bank, meanwhile, includes East Jerusalem, and represents the remainder of the land occupied by Palestinians. However some still call the land as a whole “Palestine”, if they do not recognise Israel as a legitimate country.
Israel controls the air space over Gaza and also restricts what goods and which people are allowed in and out through its border crossings.
Tensions are often high between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, with a series of skirmishes claiming lives on both sides over the last few decades.
While peace talks have been attempted at various times over the last 25 years, with one possible solution being to officially create a Palestinian state alongside Israel, the conflict has not yet been resolved.
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Hamas and more recent violence
Gaza is ruled by Hamas, a militant group which is proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the UK government.
Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank say they are suffering because of Israeli actions and restrictions. According to the UN about 80 percent of the population of Gaza depends on international aid. About one million people rely on daily food aid.
But Israel says it is acting to protect itself from Palestinian violence and restrict weapons entering Gaza.
Both sides accuse each other of various human rights violations and acts of violence.
Saturday’s attack and the Israeli retaliation
The attack on Saturday, October 7, came without warning. Hamas launched several thousand rockets at Israel, while dozens of fighters crossed the border and invaded Israeli communities. They have killed hundreds of civilians and taken others captive.
Israel immediately launched air strikes in retaliation. It warned Palestinians to leave residential areas and said it was targeting militant sites in Gaza.
The failure to predict the attack has been seen as a failure of Israeli intelligence. A Hamas spokesperson told the BBC that they received help from Iran in planning the surprise attack, although Iranian leaders have denied this.
Various western leaders have condemned the attacks and expressed solidarity with Israel, including US President Joe Biden and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. The US has sent the largest warship in the world towards the area, and has also promised munitions to Israel.
Horrific images show Hamas terrorists taking civilians hostage, while a video caught the moment they attacked an outdoor rave, reportedly killing at least 260. The retaliatory airstrikes by Israel have killed hundreds of Palestinians, with heartbreaking pictures showing a funeral procession where some of the bodies appear to be children.
According to current estimates, at least 700 people have died in Israel and more than 400 have died in Gaza, with thousands injured.
Israel has called up 300,000 military reservists and a “siege” has been ordered on Gaza, with tanks reportedly gathering at the border.
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