3. Who is Hamas, and why do they hate Israel?
Hamas is an Islamist militant group based in Gaza, where it won a 2006 U.S.-backed election. The United States and other countries designate it as a terrorist group. It formed in 1987 as a "resistance" group, pledging to destroy Israel and replace it with an all-Palestinian state. It has since significantly softened its demands to an independent Palestinian state along the 1967 borders (more on this later), but it still does not formally recognize Israel as a legitimate country and still commits violent acts against Israeli troops and civilians. It also provides a number of important social services in Gaza.
4. Got it. So I see that Israel and Hamas are fighting. Who started it?
There is no simple answer to this question; the back-and-forth extends back decades (see above), so let's start with this year. Hamas regularly fires unguided rockets into nearby areas of southern Israel. Though they rarely kill Israelis, they terrorize the largely civilian neighborhoods and generally make life unpleasant. Last Wednesday, Israel launched an air strike to kill a senior Hamas military commander, which set off the series of Israeli air strikes on Gaza and significantly accelerated Hamas rocket attacks into Israel. Some analysts fear a repeat of the 2008 fighting, which escalated into a full ground war.
5. Wait, this happened before? Why is it repeating?
Yes. Operation Cast Lead (Israel's name for it) culminated in a January 2009 Israeli ground invasion of Gaza, which resulted in 13 Israeli deaths and either 1,417 or 1,166 Palestinian deaths, depending on Palestinian or Israeli sources. Some analysts describe Israel's strategy toward Hamas as "mowing the grass": instead of finding a long-term solution, in this thinking, Israel would attack Gaza every few years or so to cut down their ability to terrorize Israelis. Hamas, for its part, does not seem to have changed strategies either.