Last week, Israel came under what is being called the deadliest attack in the last 50 years by the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Israel quickly launched a counterattack, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying, “We are at war”. In the last two days, the battle has claimed over 1,100 lives on both sides.
The share markets of several countries in West Asia, including Israel, have been deeply impacted. Moreover, nationals from several countries have been stuck in Israel. Reports suggest that the US is planning to send military ships and aircraft closer to Israel, which is one of its closest allies.
But what is Hamas and why has it attacked Israel now?
Hamas: Militant group, ruler of Gaza strip
Hamas is a Palestinian militant group founded in Gaza in 1987 by Sheikh Ahmed Yasin, and his aide Abdul Aziz al-Rantissi. Hamas stands for the Islamic Resistance Movement and in Arabic means “zeal”. It was launched shortly after the start of the first Intifada in 1987.
Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007 after a brief battle with Fatah, another militant organisation, which now runs the West Bank.
Gaza Strip is a 41 km long and 10 km wide territory between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea. It is home to about 2.3 million people and has one of the highest population densities in the world.
Israel and Egypt have blockaded Gaza Strip, and according to the United Nations (UN), 80 per cent of its population is dependent upon international aid. Also Read: Israel-Hamas war: More than 600 Israelis dead, over 2,000 wounded
How does Hamas function?
Hamas was formed as an offshoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. It has the dual purpose of carrying out an armed struggle against Israel and delivering social welfare programmes in the region. The armed struggle is led by its military wing Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades. The al-Qassam Brigades are led by Mohammed Dief, the shadowy leader known as the “cat with nine lives” in Palestine.
However, since 2005, when Israel withdrew its troops from the Gaza Strip, Hamas has also become active in Palestinian politics.
During the first Intifada, which lasted till 1993, Hamas came to prominence by conducting suicide bombings. Israel assassinated Yahya Ayyash, its chief bomb maker in 1996 but the bombings continued during the second Intifada, which lasted between 2000 and 2005.
Since then, Hamas has chosen missile attacks as their primary attack method. This time too, it has reportedly fired over 5,000 missiles at Israel. Moreover, it has sent its fighters to Israel in pickup trucks, cars and motorcycles to abduct Israeli citizens. Also Read: 5 things to know as Israel declares war, bombards Gaza after Hamas attack
Why is Hamas attacking Israel now?
Hamas has, since its inception, denied the existence of Israel. Its 1988 charter ruled out any permanent peace with the Jewish state. Moreover, it recognises an interim Palestine state, which includes the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem.
According to a report by Al Jazeera, Hamas spokesperson Khaled Qadomi said that the military operation, known as Operation Al-Aqsa Storm, is in response to atrocities that Palestinians have faced over decades.
He added that Hamas wants the international community to stop atrocities in the Gaza Strip as well as their Al-Aqsa mosque in East Jerusalem. In April this year, a confrontation took place at the mosque.
After the evening Ramadan prayer, Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the mosque, prompted by reports that Jews planned to sacrifice a goat at the site, which is forbidden by Israeli law. In response, Israeli police raided the mosque in riot gear, injuring 50 people and arresting 400.
A similar incident took place in 2021, which led to the killing of over 250 Palestinians.
How does the international community view Hamas?
Several countries including Israel, the USA and the United Kingdom have sanctioned Hamas. Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from the strip.