The Gaza Strip measures 40 kilometres long by eight kilometres wide and is located at the southeastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, between the Sinai Peninsula on the west and Israel on the south and east.
Its largest urban centre remains the ancient Gaza City, held through history by Persia, Egypt, Syria, Babylonia, Israel, the Romans, the Hellenic state, the Ottomans and the British.
About 1.5 million people live in the Gaza Strip, the majority of them Palestinian refugees who fled Israel after its creation in 1948, as well as their descendants.
Here some of the key events in Gaza's turbulent history over the ensuing 60 years:
A 1947 United Nations' partition plan for the Palestinians proposes the creation of Jewish and Arab states. Arab leaders reject the plan, but Jewish leaders approve it and the state of Israel is created.
After Israel declares its independence, Egypt attacks it from the south and the first Arab-Israeli war begins.
A splinter of territory around Gaza City comes under Egyptian military rule following the end of 1948 Arab-Israeli war. The territory — to become known as the Gaza Strip — lies between the borders of Egypt and Israel as defined by the ceasefire lines. Egypt proclaims the strip held in trust for the Palestine Arabs.
Following the Suez-Sinai War (in which Egypt fought Israel, France and England), the Gaza Strip is occupied by Israel.
Israel withdraws its troops as a result of international pressure. Gaza is placed under a UN emergency force, while Egypt regains control of the civil administration of the strip.
Israel recaptures the strip during the Arab-Israeli war of June 1967, called the Six-Day War. Israel doesn't annex or incorporate the West Bank and Gaza into Israel proper.
UN Security Council Resolution 242 calls for Israel to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and other territories.
Conflicts over how Israel should withdraw from the captured territories impedes peace negotiations between Israel and Arab states.
One of the first Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip is Kfar Darom in 1970. Two years later, Netzarim is built up.
The Israeli government continues to build settlements in the Gaza Strip during the 1970s and 1980s. The increasing Jewish presence ignites Palestinian activism and helps to motivate several militant groups. Riots become commonplace and confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians become more violent.
Hamas, a radical Islamic organization operating mainly in the Gaza Strip, is formed. That same year sees the beginning of the first Palestinian intefadeh, which lasts until 1993.
This intefadeh is limited to attacks by street youth throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. The fighting slowly graduates to the use of Molotov cocktails and hand grenades.
The Oslo Accords, signed in Washington, D.C., put in place a peace process aimed at ending the intefadeh and resolving the situation between the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Israeli government.
The accords inaugurate the Palestinian National Authority and call for the handover of some land to Palestinian control.
By mid-year, Israel has withdrawn most of its troops from the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Authority assumes administrative control of the region; there is a reduction in violence.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another extremist group, continue to thwart the peace process, ordering a series of suicide bombings against Jews in the Gaza Strip. Israel retaliates by disallowing thousands of Gazans from working in Israel. Israel and the Palestinian Authority sign a second peace agreement.
Negotiations take place to discuss the permanent transfer of power in Gaza to the Palestinian Authority, but fail to end conclusively. Talks are interrupted by Israeli elections.
A Camp David peace summit hopes to broker a deal for the troubled region, but Israeli settlers and Palestinians engage in a new round of intense fighting, which leads to the second intefadeh, called the al-Aqsa intefadeh. Hamas steps up its attacks on Israeli targets.
The Gaza Strip becomes the centre for violent clashes. Israeli helicopters attack Palestinian targets in Gaza, and Israeli tanks briefly invade Khan Younis and Beit Hanoun refugee camps in the north and Rafah in the south.
The intefadeh has made the Gaza Strip the target for attacks by Israeli forces, which in turn fuels more terrorist attacks on Israelis. Curfews are placed on Palestinian-controlled towns and villages, and security at checkpoints is increased.
Some blame the restrictive measures for the 40-per-cent unemployment rate in the Gaza Strip and its weakened economy. About 60 per cent of the population is said to be living under the poverty line.
Israel's parliament approves a plan to withdraw Israeli troops and settlements from the Gaza Strip starting in the spring of 2005. The plan also calls for the abandonment of four settlements in the West Bank. About 8,800 Jewish settlers would have to leave their homes.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has the support of his government in the leadup to the withdrawal, but the Israeli public remains divided. Jewish settlers who refuse to leave by the proposed deadline are told they will be forcefully removed by the Israeli army. Settlers promise fierce resistance and stage a series of protests as the August deadline draws near.
Some settlers are removed by force, but by mid-September all Israeli settlers are out of the Gaza Strip. Israeli troops end their 38-year presence in the area as Palestinians celebrate.
After the Israelis leave Gaza, a more intense power struggle between Hamas and Fatah begins for control of the strip.
In January, Hamas wins a surprise victory in Palestinian Authority parliamentary elections, taking 76 of the 132 seats. Hamas and Fatah struggle to find a way to work together. Hamas says it has no plans to pursue peace talks with Israel, while Western nations refuse to work with the new Hamas-dominated parliament.
On June 25, Hamas militants kill two Israeli soldiers and abduct Cpl. Gilad Shalit inside Israel. Israel closes the border with Gaza, cutting off the flow of people and many goods to the strip. The blockade is occasionally lifted to allow in humanitarian aid, but Gaza's economy is further crippled.
Israel continues its campaign of targeted assassinations against the Hamas leadership. Hamas fires rockets into southern Israel.
In March, a unity government is formed between Hamas and Fatah to try to stop the violence and ease an international boycott against the Palestinians in the wake of the Hamas victory. In May, a truce is reached to end street fighting between the two sides after dozens of people are killed.
But by early June, the street fighting in Gaza reaches a new level of intensity. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas dismisses the Hamas-led unity government on June 14. Hamas later takes full control of Gaza.
In June, Hamas and Israel reach a ceasefire to halt the cross-border rocket attacks and end Israeli offensives in Gaza. The truce ends six months later. Palestinians accuse Israel of never completely opening its border, while Israel accuses Hamas of continuing its rocket attacks. Palestinian rocket attacks resume and Israel closes the border again.
Spurred on by the rocket attacks, Israel launches air strikes against Gaza targets in late December. The strikes kill more than 300 people in the operation's first three days. Israel masses troops and tanks along the Gaza border and calls up the reserves, leading to speculation about a possible ground operation.
Fighting continues into the new year, and intensifies with the anticipated ground offensive which sees Israeli forces push deep into Gaza City, where bitter street fighting takes place.
Israel begins a ceasefire on Jan. 17, followed by a ceasefire by Gaza militants a day later.
The Israeli offensive kills more than 1,200 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, according to records kept by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. Thirteen Israelis, including three civilians, also die during the fighting.
On Jan. 27, an Israeli soldier is killed and three wounded after militants detonate a bomb in the Gaza Strip. An Israeli air strike hits the southern Gaza Strip. The ceasefire holds.
In April, the United Nations appoints Richard Goldstone — a former UN chief prosecutor for war crimes in Yugoslavia and Rwanda — to investigate "all violations of international humanitarian law" before, during and after the January 2009 conflict.
In May, U.S. President Barack Obama calls on Israel to freeze expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. He also says Palestinians must rein in anti-Israel sentiment along with incitement to violence.