A five-minute primer on an issue making headlines
What is the Gaza Strip?
It is a 40km-long strip along the Mediterranean coast between Israel and Egypt inhabited by more than 1.4 million Palestinians and, until last week, by 8,500 Israeli settlers. It is expected to become part of a Palestinian state, together with the West Bank, despite the two enclaves being separated by Israeli territory.
What is its history?
It had none until 1948, when it came under Egyptian control as part of the armistice agreement ending the fighting between Egypt and Israel in the latter's war of independence. It had been part of British Mandatory Palestine. The bulk of the strip's population is Palestinian refugees and their descendents, most of whom still live in camps.
How does Gaza compare with areas on the West Bank?
It is poorer, with 60 per cent of its people living under the poverty line, and more densely populated.
When did Israel take control?
In the 1967 Six-Day war.
When did Israeli settlement begin? And why?
In the 1970s, the Israeli government decided to create a wedge of settlements inside the strip in order to prevent an Egyptian-Palestinian build-up along the coast that could press uncomfortably against Israel's heartland. In all, 21 settlements were created on 18 per cent of the strip's land.
Did the Israeli settlers dispossess Palestinians?
The settlements were established almost entirely on barren sand dunes. Employing modern methods of desert agriculture, the Israelis succeeded in establishing prosperous farms specialising in growing flowers and spices in hothouses for export to Europe.
Were relations ever good between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza?
In economic terms, definitely. In political terms, however, Arab resentment of Israeli occupation burst into open conflict in two uprisings, or intifada, one that began in 1987 and one that began five years ago. Many Palestinians worked in the settlements before the intifada and more than 100,000 in Israel proper. Israel has since sealed off the Palestinian part of the strip to prevent terrorist attacks.
What will the Palestinians do with the land vacated now by Israel?
The Palestinian Authority says it wants to build apartment houses on the site of the settlers' villages, which will be demolished by the Israelis, to alleviate the crowding. There is also an international effort to transfer some of the Israeli hothouses intact to Palestinians in the settlement areas to create employment.