OVERPOPULATION: Situated on the Mediterranean coast, flanking Israel and Egypt, the Gaza Strip is home to 1.8 million Palestinians who live in an area stretching just 362 square kilometres (140 square miles), making it one of the most densely populated territories on the planet.
HAMAS IN POWER: Israel seized the territory from Egypt during the 1967 Six-Day War, but pulled out all of its soldiers and settlers in a unilateral move in 2005. Within six months of the withdrawal, Gaza became the de facto seat of Hamas after the Islamist movement won a landslide victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections. Its victory led to tensions with its rival Fatah, which had previously monopolised the political scene, dominates the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, and is in power in the West Bank.
ISRAELI BLOCKADE: In the summer of 2006, following the capture of a soldier by militants from Hamas, Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza which was tightened a year later after the Islamists forcibly ousted troops loyal to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah.
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POVERTY: The Gaza Strip has almost no industry, with exports banned under the Israeli blockade. Some 39 percent of the population live below the poverty line. Even before last year's war, two-thirds of the population depended on food aid and more than 40 percent were unemployed.
THE QUESTION OF UNITY: Under pressure from a growing economic crisis in Gaza, and increasingly isolated within the region, Hamas signed a surprise reconciliation deal with its West Bank rivals in April 2014 which led to the creation of a national unity government.
But in practice the unity government has never ruled and disputes over the payment of Hamas-appointed employees in Gaza, and control of the territory, mean Hamas remains in control there.