The Gaza Strip, under fire for the past 11 days in an Israeli operation to stamp out Palestinian rocket fire, is one of the most densely-populated areas in the world.
Since July 8, Israel has been pounding the impoverished coastal strip with air strikes, before sending in ground troops on Thursday to destroy a network tunnels used by Hamas militants to stage cross-border attacks.
More than 270 Palestinians have been killed during the ongoing campaign and well over 2,000 injured, while two Israelis have died, one of them a soldier.
Gaza had already suffered massive devastation from a 22-day Israeli offensive to stamp out rocket fire which began in December 2008 and left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead.
Despite lulls in the violence, the skies over Gaza have rarely remained calm, with militants firing thousands of rockets at Israel and the air force hitting back with deadly air strikes.
Situated on the Mediterranean coast, flanking Israel and Egypt, the Gaza Strip is home to 1.7 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.
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, it became the de facto seat of Hamas after the Islamist movement won a landslide victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections, causing tensions with its long-term Fatah rival, which had previously monopolised the political scene and dominates the Western-backed Palestinian Authority.
In summer 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 forces loyal to the Fatah movement of Palestinian president Mahud Abbas.
- 40% under the poverty line -
Under its blockade, Israel controls all goods entering Gaza, except those smuggled through tunnels under the border with Egypt. Although the embargo remains in place it has been significantly eased since 2010, although there remains a blanket ban on weapons and cement.
Gaza's only gateway to the world is through its narrow border with Egypt, but since the ousting of president Mohamed Morsi, a key Hamas ally who was toppled by the army in July 2013, Cairo has kept the frontier largely closed at the orders of the new administration.
Egyptian troops have since destroyed most of the network of cross-border smuggling tunnels which brough Hamas both weapons and money, souring relations between the two administrations.
Lacking in natural resources, the Gaza Strip suffers from a chronic water shortage, and has almost no industry, with exports banned under the Israeli blockade.
More than 80 percent of Gaza's residents depend on international aid and more than 40 percent live below the poverty line, according to the UN.
The unemployment rate is around 30-35 percent of the active population, with a rate of 45 percent for young people, according to international financial institutions.
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 which led to the creation of a national unity government.
On June 2, the Hamas government stepped down, ending seven years of divided administrations in the West Bank and Gaza.