(Reuters) - Palestinian militants blew up part of the wall between Gaza and Egypt on Wednesday, and tens of thousands of Palestinians streamed into Egypt to stock up on food and fuel in short supply due to an Israeli blockade.
Gaza has been largely cut off since Hamas Islamists routed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah forces to take over the territory last June.
Following are some key facts about Gaza.
WHERE IS GAZA?
* Gaza is an arid rectangle of territory at the southeast end of the Mediterranean, about 45 km (25 miles) long and 10 km (6 miles) wide. It is wedged between Israel to the north and east, and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula to the south.
HISTORY OF THE TERRITORY:
* Gaza has been continuously inhabited for more than 3,000 years. It was a crossroads of ancient civilizations and a strategic outpost on the Mediterranean. The Bible says Samson died in Gaza while destroying the Temple of the Philistines.
* It is believed to be the burial place of Prophet Mohammad’s great grandfather.
* The Ottoman Empire ruled Gaza for hundreds of years until World War One when it came under British rule along with the rest of Palestine. It came under Egyptian control in 1948 during the Arab-Israeli war that led to Israel’s creation.
* Gaza’s population tripled in 1948-49 when it absorbed about a quarter of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees displaced from areas that are now part of Israel.
* Israel captured Gaza from Egypt in the 1967 war and ended its military presence there in September 2005, having removed 8,500 Jewish settlers from 21 enclaves after almost four decades of occupation.
* Israel resumed ground operations in June 2006 after militants from Gaza tunneled across the border and captured an Israeli soldier, who is still being held.
* Just one year later in June 2007, Hamas Islamists took control of the Gaza Strip in fighting with their secular Fatah rivals, triggering the closure of front-line crossing points. Aid agencies warned of growing hardship for ordinary people.
* More recently Israel closed its borders with Gaza, cutting fuel supplies to the territory’s main power plant and petrol stations and stopping aid shipments that include food and other humanitarian supplies. The closure raised international concern over a potential humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Israel said the blockade is a bid to curb rocket salvoes fired into Israel.
LIVING IN GAZA:
* About 1.5 million Palestinians live in Gaza, more than half of them refugees from past wars with Israel and their descendants. Gaza has one of the world’s highest population densities and demographic growth rates.
* Most Gazans live on less than $2 a day. Israeli security closures curbing cross-border trade and access to jobs and Western sanctions imposed after Hamas came to power in early 2006 have hit the Palestinian economy hard.
* Gaza’s creaking sewage system became the latest casualty of Israeli sanctions aimed at getting Hamas to halt militant rocket fire from the impoverished territory. Officials at the local Palestinian water utility said more than half of Gaza’s population had no running water this week.
Writing by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit
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