Gaza's troubles run deep, with no end in sight
Demonstrations by Palestinians have been breaking out every week since late March along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, with the deadliest confrontation on Monday killing 59 people and wounding nearly 3,000.
With a stifling Israeli-Egyptian blockade and repeated violence between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers, the territory has become an ongoing crisis with no solution in sight.
A look at the tiny, impoverished Gaza Strip:
The 360-square-kilometer (139-square-mile) corridor of land along the Mediterranean Sea is wedged between Israel and Egypt, and is home to about 2 million people. After more than a decade of Hamas rule, conditions for most inhabitants are dire because of the Israeli-Egyptian blockade and pressure from the rival Palestinian Authority.
Unemployment is over 40 percent, tap water is undrinkable and Gazans receive only a few hours of electricity a day. Hospitals face constant shortages, the entry and exit of goods is limited, and parts of the territory are still waiting to be rebuilt after a 2014 conflict with Israel.
Gazans have little access to the outside world. They need to obtain hard-to-get permits to enter Israel, while travel through Egypt is restricted to just a few days a year.
Signs of distress are visible throughout Gaza's potholed streets. Young men sit idly on sidewalks, shopkeepers kill time on their smartphones as they mind their empty stores and the smell of sewage from the Mediterranean often wafts through the air.
Israel occupied the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war, and after nearly four decades of maintaining settlements there, withdrew its settlers and troops in 2005. Hamas, a militant group that opposes Israel's existence, won legislative elections the following year. It seized control of Gaza in 2007 from the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas.
Hamas has a tight grip on the territory, silencing dissent, banning public gatherings and promoting its conservative Islamic values.
Israel and Egypt have maintained the blockade to weaken the group and prevent it from building its military capabilities. Since then, Israel and Hamas have fought three wars, while attempts at internal Palestinian reconciliation have repeatedly failed, mostly because of Hamas' continued refusal to disarm.
Israel has defended the wars as a response to intense rocket fire from Gaza, and notes Hamas' history of suicide bombings and other deadly attacks, especially during the second Palestinian uprising last decade. The wars have killed several thousand Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, drawing heavy international criticism.
Israel blames Hamas for the poor conditions in the strip. It says it has no choice but to maintain the blockade, which restricts imports and exports, because the group continues to plot ways to attack Israel.
Israel says its blockade is aimed only at Hamas and has no quarrel with Gaza's civilians. It has been careful to allow humanitarian goods and construction materials to flow into Gaza, and says it will ease the blockade based on security assessments. It also has asked the international community, which already funnels hundreds of millions of dollars a year into Gaza, to increase aid.
But international organizations like the World Bank and U.N. say the blockade stifles the economy, and they repeatedly have urged Israel to ease the restrictions significantly.
Organizers said the wave of border protests is meant in large part to break the blockade and pressure Israel to ease its restrictions. But Israel sees Hamas as being behind the demonstrations and accuses the group of using the protests as cover for staging attacks on Israel.
Over 100 people have been killed by Israeli fire since the protests began March 30, drawing international accusations that Israel is using excessive force. But Israel says it is rightfully defending its sovereign border and shows no signs of easing the blockade.