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

A woman holding a child pictured after an Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on 23 November

Hamas gunmen launched an unprecedented assault on Israel from the Gaza Strip on 7 October, killing 1,200 people and taking about 240 hostages.

The Israeli military responded with air strikes on Gaza, and launched a ground offensive. More than 21,000 people have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

During a temporary truce at the end of November, Hamas released 105 hostages and Israel freed 240 Palestinian prisoners in exchange.

What is the goal of Israel’s military operation in Gaza?

Since the 7 October attacks, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) warplanes have carried out air strikes across Gaza while its troops have moved through the territory.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had a “clear goal of destroying Hamas’s military and governing capabilities”, as well as freeing the hostages.

Israel, the UK, US and other Western powers class Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

Mr Netanyahu also declared that Israel would have “overall security responsibility” for Gaza “for an indefinite period” after the conflict. However, he later said Israel had no plans to reoccupy the territory.

Israel drafted 300,000 reservists for the operation, boosting its standing force of 160,000.

What is happening on the ground in Gaza?

The IDF says it has struck more than 22,000 targets since 7 October.

It also says it has destroyed more than 800 tunnel shafts built underneath Gaza. Hamas previously claimed that its tunnel network stretches for 500km (310 miles).

Satellite images suggest that nearly 100,000 buildings in Gaza may have been damaged during the fighting.

Map showing damage to northern Gaza as at 16 December 2023

After the temporary truce ended, Israeli troops pushed into southern Gaza and began operations against Hamas and other armed groups in and around the city of Khan Younis.

The ground offensive is now expanding into refugee camps in central Gaza.

The IDF has carried out many air strikes on Rafah, near the Egyptian border, where it previously told residents of Khan Younis to flee.

There has been fierce fighting in the north, around the Jabalia refugee camp and the Shejaiya district of Gaza City. The UN estimates that 100,000 civilians remain in the north.

Israel claims to have killed thousands of Hamas fighters during the war and arrested hundreds.

The IDF says 167 Israeli soldiers have been killed since the start of its ground offensive on 27 October.

Who are the hostages and how many have been freed?

During the 7 October attacks, Hamas took about 240 hostages, who it said were hidden in “safe places and tunnels” within Gaza.

Israel said more than 30 of the hostages were children, and at least 10 were aged over 60. It also said about half of the hostages had foreign passports from 25 different countries.

Under a deal brokered by Qatar, a seven-day pause in fighting began on 24 November.

A Palestinian teen hugs a family member after being released
Image caption,Large crowds have been gathering in the occupied West Bank to greet Palestinians released from Israeli jails

During the truce, 81 Israelis and dual nationals were released, along with 24 foreigners. In return for the Israeli hostages, 240 Palestinians were free from Israeli jails.

The released hostages included:

  • 78 Israeli women and children
  • 23 Thais and one Filipino
  • 3 Russian-Israelis

Hamas let four Israeli hostages go before the truce, and another was freed by Israeli forces.

Israeli troops mistakenly shot dead three hostages who were displaying a white flag in Gaza on 15 December.

It is believed that more than 100 hostages remain alive in Gaza. A number of bodies have also been recovered and Israeli officials have confirmed the deaths of more than 20 people who had been held by Hamas.

Why did the pause in fighting end, and will another be agreed?

Each side blamed the other for the collapse of the truce and resumption of fighting on 1 December.

Mr Netanyahu said Hamas had not “met its obligation to release all of the women hostages”, and had “launched rockets at Israeli citizens”.

Hamas said Israel had refused “to accept all offers to release other hostages”.

On 13 December, the UN General Assembly passed a non-binding resolution calling for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire”, as well as the “the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages”.

Five days earlier, the US had vetoed a similar draft resolution at the UN Security Council, saying a ceasefire would allow Hamas to regroup.

A woman cries as she hugs an injured man after an Israeli air strike on Rafah, southern Gaza. Photo: 12 December 2023
Image caption,A woman cries as she hugs an injured man after an Israeli air strike on Rafah in southern Gaza on 12 December

On 22 December, the Security Council adopted a resolution calling for “urgent steps to immediately allow safe, unhindered, and expanded humanitarian access and to create the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities”. But it stopped short of calling for a ceasefire in order to avoid a US veto.

Hamas has said it and other armed groups in Gaza will not release any more hostages until Israel agrees to end the war.

Mr Netanyahu has promised to push on the war “until the end”. “Whoever talks about stopping – there is no such thing,” he told troops on 25 December.

What is the humanitarian situation in Gaza?

Medical staff treat patients at Al-Nasser Hospital in Rafah
Image caption,Only a fraction of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are still functioning

The Hamas-run health ministry says more than 55,000 people have been injured since the start of the war.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says only 13 out of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are partially functioning.

The nine hospitals in the south are operating at https://belakangan.com three times their capacity, while facing critical shortages of basic supplies and fuel for generators.

Mr Netanyahu has admitted that Israel has been “not successful” in minimising civilian casualties, but says Hamas has been using Gaza’s civilians as human shields.

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