Hamas is a radical Islamist organisation in Palestine. It has won widespread support among Palestinians through its resistance to Israeli dominance.
Support for Hamas has grown at the expense of Fatah – the organisation that led the nationalist Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).
Fatah emerged from the struggle of the Palestinians in the 1960s. Its armed resistance to Israel inspired a generation to support the Palestinian cause.
But in the 1990s Fatah sought to agree a “land for peace” deal with Israel that never materialised. By contrast Hamas argued against any deal that did not include the right to return for Palestinians expelled by Israel.
Many Palestinians have grown increasingly frustrated at Fatah’s broken promises and its compromises with Israel, the US and the Arab regimes.
In January 2006 Hamas won the general elections for the Palestinian Authority that governs the West Bank and Gaza – taking 74 out of 132 seats.
But despite the US and Israel claiming that they stand on the side of “democracy” in the Middle East, they refused to recognise Hamas’s victory.
Instead Israel tightened its siege of Gaza – Hamas’s power base. As Palestinians suffered, Fatah signed up to yet more abortive “peace talks”.
The Israelis and Fatah believed that the population of Gaza would turn against Hamas. Instead their support has grown and, in 2007, Hamas fought off an attempt by Fatah to take control of Gaza.
Hamas agreed a ceasefire with Israel in summer 2008 to try to bring humanitarian relief to the population of Gaza. But Israel’s refusal to allow sufficient aid into Gaza, along with its continued attacks on Palestinians, undermined this deal.