What is Hamas and what prompted their attack on Israel?

Hamas launched a violent attack on Israel, killing more than 700 people, including at least 260 at a music festival that became the scene of one of the country’s worst civilian massacres.

The militants blew through a fortified border fence, gunning down Israeli communities and soldiers along the Gaza frontier in their wake, during the Jewish holiday Sukkot.

Israel has declared war, bombarding the Gaza strip with airstrikes in retaliation. The country's government has promised to hunt down Hamas fighters and to punish the Gaza Strip, but who are they and what has caused the widespread violence.

What is Hamas and the Gaza Strip?

Hamas is an Islamist militant group, known for its armed resistance to Israel.

It rules the 25 mile stretch of coastline, the Gaza Strip. It is home to more than two million people, who have been completely cut off by an Israeli led blockade.

Rockets are fired towards Israel from the Gaza Strip on Monday Credit: Hatem Moussa/AP

Israel has ordered a "complete siege" on Gaza, with authorities cutting off electricity and blocking the entry of food and fuel, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said on Monday.

Hamas was founded in the late 1980s during an uprising against Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank.

What does Hamas want?

Hamas does not recognise Israel's right to exist and is dedicated to the establishment of an independent Islamic state.

It took power in Gaza in 2007 and since then has fought several wars with Israel.

It has also been responsible for suicide attacks, kidnappings and missile strikes against Israelis.

Israel, along with Egypt, has maintained a blockade on the strip since 2007 controlling everything that goes in or out.  

Egypt has spoken with both sides about a potential cease-fire since fighting broke out this weekend, but an Egyptian official said Israel was not open to a truce “at this stage.”

Who supports Hamas?

The UK, US and the EU all consider Hamas to be a terrorist organisation.

But the group is allied with Middle Eastern countries like Syria and other Islamist groups that oppose US and Israeli policies.

Iran is one of it's most vocal supporters and has been supplying Hamas with weapons for decades - though the country has denied involvement in this attack.

But senior Iranian officials praised the attack - President Ebrahim Raisi spoke by phone with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhalah, the state-run IRNA news agency reported Sunday.

What prompted the attack?

Hamas officials say long-simmering sources of tension including the dispute over the sensitive Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews, sparked the assault.

Competing claims over the site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, have spilled into violence before, including a bloody 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in 2021.

In recent years, Israeli religious nationalists, such as Itamar Ben-Gvir, the national security minister, have increased their visits to the site.

Last week was the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot, this meant hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews and Israeli activists visited the site.

This prompted condemnation from Hamas and claims the Jewish people praying there were in violation of the status quo agreement.

Fire and smoke rise following an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City. Credit: Fatima Shbair/AP

Hamas also has cited the expansion of Jewish settlements on lands that Palestinians claim for a future state and Ben-Gvir’s efforts to toughen restrictions on Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

Tensions recently escalated with violent Palestinian protests along the Gaza frontier.

In negotiations with Qatar, Egypt and the United Nations, Hamas has pushed for Israeli concessions that could loosen the 17-year blockade on the enclave and help halt a worsening financial crisis that has sharpened public criticism of its rule.

Some political analysts have linked Hamas’ attack to current US-brokered talks on normalisation of ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

So far, reports of possible concessions to Palestinians in the negotiations have involved the occupied West Bank, not Gaza.

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