The Gaza Strip is a narrow strip of land between Israel and Egypt, on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The strip itself is about 360 square kilometers, or about twice the size of Washington, DC. Some of the land is farmed, but due to the dry climate, extensive irrigation is needed in many areas. The name comes from the ancient Philistine city of Gaza which was located on the site of modern Gaza City.

In modern times, the strip was controlled by the Ottoman Empire until the end of World War I, when control passed to the British. It remained as part of the British Mandate, along with the rest of Palestine until 1948 when modern day Israel was founded, and Gaza fell under the control of Egypt. It was briefly captured by Israel in the 1956 Suez campaign. International pressure convinced Israel to withdraw in 1957, but Gaza was recaptured in in 1967 during the Six-Day War. It has since remained under Israeli control as an occupied territory.

During the Israeli occupation, about 60% of the strip was accessible to the 1.1 million palestinians who live there. The remainder was made up of Israeli settlements (there are about 7,000 settlers living in Gaza), security buffer zones and roads restricted to settler traffic. The Palestinians area was partitioned into two areas; a large area to the north containing the cities of Khan Yunis and Gaza City, and a smaller area to the south with Rafah. The two were split by a large block of settlements in southwest corner of the strip. In 2005, Israel withdrew and abandoned the settlements. Most of the settlement buildings were destroyed, by mutual agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. Some buildings, including greenhouses, were left intact. Although some terrorist attacks originate in Gaza, Israel has had far fewer security problems here than in the West Bank. This is likely due to a shorter border to control, fewer settlers, and more concentrated settlement areas. Qassam rocket attacks persist however, which has kept the borders mostly closed and has prompted regular military retaliation.

The cities within Gaza are the most densely populated areas on earth. It is universally agreed that the arid land of Gaza has no hope of supporting the huge population that currently resides there. Prior to the establishment of Israel, the Gaza strip was home to only about 80,000 people, but swelled to around 300,000 during war in 1947 and 1948. Most of the refugees had fled the city of Jaffa, near present day Tel Aviv, and the Beersheva area in the Negev. Since then, the numbers have swelled to 1.1 million, due to natural growth and a high birthrate.

Sources:
CIA World Factbook
www.un.org/unrwa/refugees/gaza.html
http://www.us-israel.org/

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