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Israel-Hamas Conflict Escalates: 900 Israelis Killed, Gaza Under Siege

Hamas attack compared to Yom Kippur War; Israel's largest reserve mobilization

Two days after Hamas launched an unprecedented attack against Israel, fighting across the country and in Gaza continued. Some have already labeled it “Israel’s 9/11.”

“Some 900 Israelis have been killed since Saturday and more than 2,600 others wounded,” said officials.

The attack by Hamas, which included the taking of civilian Israeli hostages, has been compared to the Yom Kippur War of 1973, a 19-day battle set off by an Egyptian and Syrian invasion that caught Israel off guard.

In response to Saturday’s attack, Israel’s military has called up 300,000 members of its reserve force over the weekend, the largest mobilization in such a short period in the country’s history.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of what he called “a long and difficult war that was forced on us by a murderous Hamas attack.”

Israeli police evict settlers in the Netiv Haavot neighborhood of the Elazar settlement. Reviewing the genesis of Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES.

Israel said it had ordered a “complete siege” of the Gaza Strip, while Hamas threatened to execute a civilian hostage every time an airstrike hit Gaza residents.

Here’s a look at the history of the conflict and how we got here:

What is Hamas?

Hamas also known as the Islamic Resistance Movement is a Palestinian political and militant organization founded in 1987 during the First Intifada (Palestinian uprising against Israel).

Hamas has both political and military wings and is known for its armed resistance against Israel. Many countries including Israel, the United States and the European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

The organization was founded by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and other Palestinian activists with the goal of resisting occupation and establishing an Islamic state within Israel and territories known as the West Bank and Gaza Strip. During the First Intifada, it gained popularity as an alternative to the secular Palestine Liberation Organization. Hamas conducted numerous attacks against Israeli military and civilian targets during the 1980s and ‘90s.

Throughout the 1990s, Hamas began to participate in Palestinian elections and established a political wing. In 2006, it won a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections, leading to it forming a government in the Gaza Strip. A year later, a rivalry between Hamas and the Fatah faction, led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, escalated into a violent conflict.

As a result, Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip, while Fatah retained control of the West Bank. This division between the two territories has persisted to this day.

Prior to Saturday’s attack, Hamas has engaged in multiple armed conflicts with Israel, including major conflicts in 2008, 2012 and again in 2014. These conflicts resulted in significant casualties and destruction in the Gaza Strip. They were often sparked by rocket attacks launched by Hamas and Israeli military operations in response.

How did we get here?

The State of Israel was founded in 1948 and designated the Jewish homeland following World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust. It is bordered by Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan to the east, the Red Sea to the south, Egypt to the southwest and the Mediterranean Sea to the west.

The Palestinian territories, which declared independence in 1988 but are not recognized by all nations, include the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The region is home to 2.2 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and 3.2 million in the West Bank. Israel, meanwhile, has a population of 9.3 million.

Most of the West Bank is currently administered by Israel though 42% of it is under varying degrees of autonomous rule by the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority. The Gaza Strip is currently under the control of Hamas, a Sunni Muslim group.

Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have escalated over the past two years. In May 2021, following weeks of tensions during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, hundreds of Palestinians were wounded in clashes with Israeli forces at the Al Aqsa compound in Jerusalem, Islam’s third holiest site.

After demanding Israel withdraw security forces from the compound, Hamas unleashed a barrage of rockets from Gaza into Israel. Israel hit back with air strikes on Gaza. Fighting lasted 11 days, killing at least 250 people in Gaza and 13 in Israel.

In August 2022, at least 44 people including 15 children were killed over the course of three days of violence that began when Israeli air strikes hit a senior Islamic Jihad commander. Israel said at the time that the air strikes were a pre-emptive measure against an imminent attack.

In response, Palestine Islamic Jihad, a a Sunni Muslim militant group, fired over 1,000 rockets towards Israel. Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system prevented any serious damage or casualties.

This past January, Islamic Jihad in Gaza fired two rockets towards Israel after the country’s soldiers raided a refugee camp and killed seven Palestinian gunmen and two civilians. The rockets set off alarms in Israeli communities near the border, but no casualties took place. Again, Israel responded with air strikes on Gaza.

What is Iran’s involvement?

The terrorists who launched the assault on Israel — including the Lebanese militia known as Hezbollah that fired shots across the border — hailed from different organizations and even different countries. But they share at least one major commonality: They are all backed by Iran.

Palestinians wave flags from the militant group Hamas during the funeral of Thabet Ayadi. Reviewing the genesis of Israel-Palestinian conflicts. AWAD AWAD/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES. 

“Israel now believes there’s some evidence that the Iranians might have known about the attack,” said Ron Dermer, the Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister. 

“Our working assumption a couple of days ago was that they hadn’t known about it directly,” “Now it is unclear, and we’ll have to wait to verify it,” said Dermer.

The level of planning that would have been required for such an attack has prompted questions about whether Hamas could have done it alone or whether Iran gave them a hand.

Iran’s government has denied any involvement, but U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer said on Monday that the United States believes Iran is “broadly complicit” in the attacks inside Israel.

 Produced in association with Religion Unplugged

Edited by ISAAC OKOTH NYAMUNGU and Newsdesk Manager

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