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 1.4m 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.
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 has been the scene of frequent deadly clashes between gunmen from the rival Hamas and Fatah factions.
Air strikes by Israel targeting militants in the densely populated city often kill 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.
Israel's blockade and international isolation have left them both in a dire economic situation.
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 refugee camps lack basic amenities
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 latest UN figures for the camp populations are: Jabaliya (106,691), Rafah (95,187), Shati (78,768), Nuseirat (57,120), Khan Younis (63,219), Bureij (28,770), Maghazi (22,266), Deir el-Balah (19,534).
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 the frequent target 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.
Palestinian forces, monitored by European Union officials, are stationed at the Rafah border crossing to Egypt. Under a deal brokered by the US, Israel uses video surveillance at Rafah, but cannot stop people crossing.
Rafah crossing is Gaza's sole contact with the outside world not under direct Israeli control. It is open to pedestrians and can be used to export goods, but imports are not allowed.
Israel controls crossings into Gaza from its territories
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 almost all of the time in since Hamas took over Gaza.
This has led to shortages of basic humanitarian supplies and severely hampered Gaza's main exports - perishable goods such as fruit and cut flowers.
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 one of the strongholds of the Palestinian militant organisation Hamas, which won parliamentary elections in January 2006.
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.
Militant groups control the streets in much of the Gaza Strip
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.
These have caused a handful of deaths and 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.