- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 28, 2003

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — About 1.3 million people crowd the Gaza Strip — one of the most densely populated areas in the world and one of the poorest.

During the past three years of Israeli-Palestinian violence, the people of the Strip have been hemmed into an area a few miles wide and 20 miles long — ringed by fences, barbed wire and watchtowers on three sides and the Mediterranean Sea on the west.

The Israeli government’s virtual ban on Gazans entering Israel has eliminated tens of thousands of jobs and wiped out a major source of income for Gazan families.

Israel’s army, which controls the main north-south road in the Strip, frequently cuts the enclave into two or three sections, further restricting movement between Gaza City in the north and the towns of Khan Younis and Rafah in the south.

Islam is a dominant force in Gaza, where people tend to be more conservative and religious than Palestinians in the slightly more prosperous West Bank. Most Gazan women wear head scarves, and most men attend Friday prayers.

Although the Islamic militant group Hamas is stronger in Gaza than in the West Bank, the fence around Gaza has prevented any of its suicide bombers from reaching Israel from the Strip. Instead, militants attack Gaza settlements where about 7,000 Jews live and fire homemade Qassam rockets at nearby Israeli towns across the fence.

In response, Israeli troops have taken over swaths of territory, destroying homes where residents were suspected of smuggling weapons and orange groves that provided cover to militants firing rockets.

Gaza City — the largest population center with about a half-million people — is home to most of the Hamas leadership, which is being targeted by Israeli air strikes. Numerous civilians also have been killed in the attacks, adding to anger at Israel.

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