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Israel-Palestine war: What is Hamas? Why is it targeting Israelis?

Hamas, the militant group in the Palestinian territories, launched a terror attack in Israel that led to the taking of at least 100 Israeli civilians and soldiers as hostages, with over 300 Israelis reported killed. Most of these abductions occurred within the first hour of the attack

Israel Palestine war What is Hamas? What is it targeting Israelis?
First Published Oct 8, 2023, 2:07 PM IST

The Israeli embassy in the United States has reported that the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas has taken at least 100 Israeli civilians and soldiers hostage during a terror attack, with over 300 Israelis having been killed by the Hamas group. Most of the kidnappings occurred within the first hour of the surprise attack on Saturday by Hamas fighters, who infiltrated Israel using powered paragliders and bulldozers to breach border fences.

This large-scale terrorist attack on Israeli cities and the subsequent retaliatory strikes have brought Hamas into the global spotlight. The Palestinian terrorist group gained international attention by launching over 5,000 rockets at Israel, overwhelming its formidable aerial defence system, the Iron Dome. The toll from both Hamas' attacks and Israel's response has resulted in the deaths of more than 500 people.

What is Hamas? 

Hamas, short for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya (Islamic Resistance Movement), is the largest and most capable militant group in the Palestinian territories. It also functions as one of the two major political parties in the region. Established in 1987 during the first Palestinian uprising, Hamas emerged as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood's Palestinian branch. 

What does Hamas want?

The group is dedicated to armed resistance against Israel and aims to establish an Islamic Palestinian state in place of Israel. Since 2007, Hamas has effectively governed the Gaza Strip, displacing the Palestinian Authority from power.

The group's charter rejects all agreements made between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel, advocating for the establishment of an Islamic Palestinian state. 

What Tactics Are Adopted By Hamas?

Hamas employs various tactics in its operations, including improvised explosive devices, rockets, mortars, small arms, kidnappings, rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank missiles, unmanned aircraft systems, and cyber espionage activities. Hamas primarily operates in the Gaza Strip and certain areas of the West Bank.

The organization maintains a military wing known as the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, responsible for conducting anti-Israel attacks, including bombings, small-arms assaults, improvised explosives, and rocket strikes, both in Israel and the Palestinian territories. These attacks have been ongoing since the 1990s.

Why did Hamas Attack on October 6?

The date of October 6 holds historical significance as it marks the start of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. On this holiest day in Judaism, a coalition of Arab nations launched surprise attacks on Israeli-occupied territories, sparking a conflict known as the Yom Kippur War. 

Israel responded with an offensive against the Arab coalition, primarily in the Golan Heights, Sinai, and other occupied areas since the Six-Day War in 1967. Geopolitical tensions escalated to the point where then-US President Richard Nixon issued a global nuclear alert.

As the war intensified, Arab OPEC members suspended oil deliveries to Western countries supporting Israel, leading to a global energy crisis. After nearly two weeks of conflict and thousands of casualties, Israel emerged victorious with an increased territorial presence.

Hamas attributes recent violence to longstanding tensions between Israel and Palestinians, particularly the dispute over the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a site of significance for both Muslims and Jews. This site has a history of violence, including the 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in 2021.

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