Gaza City is the Strip's main administrative and commercial hub
The Gaza Strip is a narrow piece of land along the Mediterranean coast between Israel and Egypt.
Just 40km (25 miles) long and 10km wide, it is home to more than 1.5 million Palestinians.
The shape of the territory was defined by the Armistice Line following the creation of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent war between the Israeli and Arab armies.
Egypt administered the Strip for the next 19 years, but Israel captured it during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and Gaza has been under Israeli control since then.
In 2005, Israel pulled out the troops occupying Gaza, along with thousands of Jews who had settled in the territory. As far as Israel was concerned that was the end of the occupation.
However, that has not been accepted internationally as Israel still exercises control over most of Gaza's land borders, as well as its territorial waters and airspace. Egypt controls Gaza's southern border.
In June 2007, the Islamist militant group Hamas took over the strip, ousting the forces of Fatah, the faction led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and effectively splitting Gaza from the West Bank in terms of its administration. Hamas had won legislative elections in January 2006.
Gaza City is the Strip's biggest population centre and has about 400,000 inhabitants.
As in other towns in Gaza, there are high levels of poverty, deprivation and unemployment in Gaza City.
It was the scene of frequent deadly clashes between gunmen from the rival Hamas and Fatah factions. Under Hamas rule, law and order in the strip improved, though Hamas security forces have been accused of abuses.
Over the years, Israeli air strikes targeting militants in the densely populated areas have often killed bystanders as well.
Gaza's other two main population centres are Khan Younis (population 200,000) in central Gaza and Rafah (population 150,000) in the south.
Some refugee camps lack basic amenities
The majority of Gaza's residents are from refugee families which fled or were expelled from the land that became Israel in 1948. Most Gazans live in eight refugee camps to which the United Nations delivers health, education and other humanitarian services.
Some of the camps have merged with nearby towns, while others such as Nuseirat and Bureij are self-contained.
The influx of refugees into the narrow strip of land means it now has one of the highest population densities on earth. About 20% of refugee dwellings are not connected to the sewage system and waste water flows in open channels along roads.
The camp population in Gaza, according to the UN, are: Jabaliya (106,691), Rafah (95,187), Shati (78,768), Nuseirat (57,120), Khan Younis (63,219), Bureij (28,770), Maghazi (22,266), Deir al-Balah (19,534).
Israel has for many years restricted entry to and exit from Gaza, but it intensified its blockade of Gaza in June 2007, when Hamas took over. The aim has been to isolate Hamas and to pressure it to stop militant rocket fire.
Since, the strip's population have been relying on less than a quarter of the volume of imported supplies they received in December 2005. At times, significantly less than that has gone into the strip, causing severe shortages.
Only basic humanitarian items have been allowed in, and virtually no exports permitted, paralysing the economy.
In the wake of the Hamas takeover, Israel said it would allow only basic humanitarian supplies into the strip. No specific list of what is and is not classed as humanitarian exists, although aid agencies say permitted items generally fall into four categories - human food, animal food, groceries (cleaning products, nappies etc) and medicines.
In September 2007, the Israeli government declared the Strip a "hostile entity" in response to continued rocket attacks on southern Israel, and said it would start cutting fuel imports.
Fuel shortages and a lack of spare parts have had a heavy knock-on impact on sewage treatment, waste collection, water supply and medical facilities.
Israel maintains the blockade has at no point caused a humanitarian crisis - but in early 2008, a group of aid agencies described the situation as exactly that, and the worst situation in the strip since Israel occupied it in 1967. The blockade has been criticised as collective punishment by, among other, the United Nations.
BORDERS AND CROSSINGS
An Israeli-built metal fence separates Israel and the Gaza Strip. Along the border are several heavily fortified border crossings for people and goods. They are heavily guarded by Israeli forces and have been targets of Palestinian militant attacks.
After the 2005 pullout, Israel wanted to keep control of Gaza's border with Egypt, known as the Philadelphi Route, to control traffic and prevent smuggling.
However, it was obliged by international pressure to abandon the plan and it handed over responsibility for the border to Egypt.
Since Hamas took over the strip by force in June 2007, Egypt has kept largely its border with Gaza closed. It is opened occasionally for humanitarian reasons and to allow pilgrims to pass through.
Tunnels have been built under the border which are used to bring in all kinds of goods, and weapons.
Officially goods can enter from Egypt by the Kerem Shalom crossing and from Israel via the Sufa and Karni crossings, both of which are controlled by the Israeli army.
These crossings have been closed much of the time since Hamas took over Gaza.
The main passenger crossing point into Israel, Erez in the north, has been closed to Palestinians for long periods, preventing labourers from working in Israel, though internationals and emergency medical cases are allowed to cross.
In the late 1990s, the Palestinians were allowed to open their own airport in the Gaza Strip, but this has been put out of use by Israeli attacks since the 2000 intifada.
Israel agreed in principle to the opening of a seaport for Gaza and to allow bus connections with the West Bank in a US-brokered deal in November 2005. But both moves are yet to be implemented.
Gaza is the stronghold of the Palestinian militant organisation Hamas, which won parliamentary elections in January 2006. Hamas effectively governs the territory.
Hamas routed the Fatah forces in the Gaza Strip in June 2007
Other groups such as Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committee have a strong presence in the Strip. In June 2007, Fatah was routed in Gaza along with the Fatah affiliated al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
Despite Gaza's isolation, militants have continued to attack Israeli interests from the Strip since the 2005 pull-out.
The main vehicle of resistance, as the militants describe it, is the firing of short-range homemade rockets which can reach nearby Israeli population centres, such as Sderot, less than a kilometre from Gaza's north-east corner.
Palestinian militant groups have started firing more sophisticated rockets, some reaching 40km (25 miles) in to Israel.
These have caused a handful of deaths, injuries and severe disruption for Israelis living within range.
Israeli shelling and missile attacks, meanwhile, which Israel says are meant to stop the rocket fire, have killed large numbers of Gazans, including many civilians.