What is Hamas and why is it fighting with Israel in Gaza?

A woman and child sitting next to a ruined building in Rafah (January 2024)

Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas have been at war since early October.

It began when Hamas gunmen launched an unprecedented attack on Israel from Gaza – the deadliest in Israel’s history.

An Israeli military campaign has followed, which has killed thousands in the Palestinian territory.

What happened during the Hamas attacks on Israel?

On the morning of 7 October, waves of Hamas gunmen stormed across Gaza’s border into Israel, killing about 1,200 people. Hamas also fired thousands of rockets.

Those killed included children, the elderly and 364 young people at a music festival. 

Hamas took more than 250 others to Gaza as hostages.

The BBC has also seen evidence of rape and sexual violence during the Hamas attacks. 

What is Hamas and why is it fighting Israel?

Hamas became the sole ruler of Gaza after violently ejecting political rivals in 2007.

It has an armed wing and was thought to have 30,000 fighters before the start of the war.

The group, whose name stands for Islamic Resistance Movement, wants to create an Islamic state in place of Israel. Hamas rejects Israel’s right to exist and is committed to its destruction.

Hamas justified its attack as a response to what it calls Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people.

These include security raids on Islam’s third holiest site – the al-Aqsa Mosque, in occupied East Jerusalem – and Jewish settlement activity in the occupied West Bank.

Hamas fighters wave a Palestinian flag on top of a captured Israeli tank on 7 October 2023
Image caption,Hamas fighters on an Israeli tank captured in the 7 October attack

Hamas also wants thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israel to be freed and for an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip by Israel and Egypt – something both countries say is for security.

It has fought several wars with Israel since it took power, fired thousands of rockets and carried out other deadly attacks.

Israel has repeatedly attacked Hamas with air strikes and sent troops into Gaza in 2008 and 2014.

Hamas, or in some cases its armed wing alone, is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the US, the EU, and the UK, among others.

Iran backs Hamas with funding, weapons and training.

Why is Israel fighting in Gaza?

Israel immediately began a massive campaign of air strikes on targets in Gaza, in response to the Hamas attack

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel’s aims were the destruction of Hamas and the return of the hostages.

Israel launched a ground invasion three weeks later. It has also bombarded Gaza from the sea.

Attacks were initially focused on northern Gaza, particularly Gaza City and tunnels beneath it, which Israel said were the centre of military operations by Hamas. https://repositoryku.com/

All 1.1 million people living in the north were ordered by Israel to evacuate south for their safety.

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