What is Hamas and why is it in conflict with Israel? Key questions about the Israel-Gaza conflict

9 October 2023, 10:54 | Updated: 9 October 2023, 10:58

Hamas launched an attack on Israel on Saturday.
Hamas launched an attack on Israel on Saturday. Picture: Alamy

By Jenny Medlicott

After a state of war was declared between Israel and Hamas on Saturday, here's everything you need to know about the current Israel-Gaza conflict.

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The combined death toll in the latest outbreak of violence in the region has risen above 1,000. Over 700 Israelis and more than 400 Palestinians have been killed. Thousands of people have been injured, with many of those fighting for life.

But what is Hamas, why is it in conflict with Israel and why now? Here’s everything you need to know about the Gaza-Israel attack.

What is Hamas?

Hamas is a Palestinian and Islamist political organisation, with Ismail Haniyeh understood to be the leader behind the latest outbreak of violence.

Hamas is an acronym of an Arabic phrase that translates as Islamic Resistance Movement.

It was first set up in 1987 during an uprising against Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. Hamas later took power of Gaza in 2007.

Israel was hit in a surprise attack on Saturday.
Israel was hit in a surprise attack on Saturday. Picture: Alamy

Why are Israel and Hamas fighting?

There has been tension between Israel and Hamas for years. The West Bank and Gaza, as well as East Jerusalem and Israel all previously formed a part of land known as Palestine.

But after Israel was declared a state in 1948, some who do not recognise Israel’s right to exist, still refer to it as Palestine.

Hamas and other Palestinian groups believe the territory was ‘stolen’ from the Palestinian people.

In the years that followed Israel’s establishment as a state, it fought in several wars and gained occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. In 2005, Israel pulled out of Gaza but still continues to occupy the West Bank.

After Hamas took power in 2007, Israel, along with Egypt, blockaded the Gaza Strip - which it said was for security reasons.

Hamas retaliated to the blockade in 2008, resulting in the first Gaza-Israel war.

Both Hamas and Israel have carried out attacks at various points in the years since.

Read more: 'This is our 9/11': Israel strikes back at Hamas after 'worst massacre of innocent civilians' in its history

Read more: Bodies of 260 killed in Israel festival massacre piled up after Hamas went 'tree by tree' executing victims

Israel has stepped up retaliatory strikes on Gaza.
Israel has stepped up retaliatory strikes on Gaza. Picture: Alamy

Why has Hamas attacked Israel now?

This year has been one of the deadliest in the history of conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Palestinians have been attacked by Israel at least 700 times in the last year, according to the UN's humanitarian agency (OCHA).

But there have also been a number of attacks on Israel in the last year, including a January attack when a Palestinian gunman shot seven people dead near a synagogue in Neve Yaakov.

Hamas’ attack on Israel on Saturday is one of the biggest ever launched on the region in years, taking Israel completely by surprise despite its heavy surveillance of Gaza.

Gunmen from Hamas crossed the border using paragliders and breached the wire that separates the two regions.

The Supernova Festival, which takes place near the border with Gaza, was fired upon by Hamas terrorists who crossed into Israel using motorised paragliders before killing the power and opening fire on festival-goers.

Images from the aftermath of the massacre were shared across social media by the Israeli government, with victims seen being placed in body bags and piled up in tents.

The surprise attack brought with it Israeli soldiers and civilians fighting on the streets of southern Israel, following a barrage of 2,000 rockets sent over the border by Hamas.

Retaliatory Israeli airstrikes in response to Hamas attacks had destroyed 159 housing units across Gaza and severely damaged 1,210 others.

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