Egypt has presented a cease-fire plan that marks the most serious attempt for international parties to mediate the week of violence.
A Hamas official has said that they are willing to discuss the plan and Israeli leaders are said to be seriously discussing the proposal, which comes after seven days of heavy rocket fire that has now claimed an estimated 185 lives.
What Is Gaza and Who Controls It?
The Gaza Strip is a Detroit-sized area on the border with Egypt up against the Mediterranean Sea that is one of the most densely packed places on Earth. Technically part of the Palestinian Authority, it has been governed since 2007 by the militant group Hamas.
Hamas, which rejects the existence of Israel, and the Palestinian Authority, recently agreed to form a unity government with the other main Palestinian political faction, Fatah. But the outbreak of current hostilities pitting Hamas against Israel has left the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority on the sidelines.
What Sparked This Violence?
Tensions were ignited in June when three Israeli teenagers, one with American citizenship and all seminary students, were kidnapped while hitchhiking in the West Bank and killed. They were kidnapped on June 12 and their bodies were discovered June 30. Within days, Israel arrested more than 300 Palestinians, many of them members of Hamas. Hamas warned Israel it had “opened up the gates of hell” with its actions.
On the night the boys’ bodies were found, a barrage of rockets were launched from Gaza at Israel and Israeli warplanes carried out numerous air strikes in Gaza.
On July 2, a Palestinian teenager was kidnapped and burned to death in apparent retaliation. The death triggered riots in East Jerusalem, a largely Palestinian area. Three Israelis have been arrested and charged with his death.
The attacks quickly escalated. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have fired rockets with a reach that Israel had not previously seen, with air raid sirens going off as far away as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. Many of the missiles have landed in desert areas or been intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. No Israelis have died from the rocket attacks. There have been reports of several Israeli injuries, including one teenage boy who was seriously wounded from a shrapnel blast.
According to the Israeli Defense Forces, Israel has carried out more than 1,400 air strikes in Gaza as part of Operation Protective Edge. The Palestinian Health Ministry says more than 170 people have been killed in Gaza and more than 1,300 have been injured since the operation began. The IDF claims more than 1,000 rockets have been launched at Israel in the last week, 754 of which have hit Israel and some 200 were intercepted by the Iron Dome.
Israel has called up more than 40,000 reservists and massed tanks and troops along the border with Gaza, but so far a full-scale ground offensive has not taken place.
Who Are the Key Players?
Hamas controls the Gaza Strip and is considered a terrorist group by Israel and the U.S.
The Israeli Defense Forces are the military arm of Israel and are well armed and exceptionally large given Israel’s population. Most Israeli residents must go through compulsory military service and are automatically enrolled in the IDF’s reserve forces.
Benjamin Netanyahu is the prime minister of Israel. After the Israeli teens were found dead, he said they were victims of “terrorists” and “human animals.” When the Palestinian teen was found murdered, he telephoned the boy’s father and said the murder was “abhorrent.” Netanyahu’s spokesman Mark Regev said that they followed through with their promise to find and punish the perpetrators.
“Israel stands thoroughly against this. We promised to investigate. We promised to bring the perpetrators of that crime to justice and guess what? We delivered. We’ve done exactly that,” Regev said.