What is Hamas, and why did it attack Israel now?

correction

An earlier version of this article incorrectly described Hamas’s aim as the creation of a Palestinian state along the borders that existed before the 1967 war. Hamas does not recognize the existence of Israel and is committed to replacing it through armed struggle with a Palestinian state stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. In addition, an earlier version of this article inaccurately characterized Qatar’s relationship with Hamas. Qatar works with Hamas to provide humanitarian assistance to civilians in the Gaza Strip, but it does not directly support the group. The article has been corrected.

Israel declared war against Hamas on Sunday, following a surprise attack by the Palestinian militant group based in Gaza that included the taking of civilian hostages at a music festival, where at least 260 bodies have been recovered. Israeli security forces, caught off guard, have pounded the Gaza Strip with retaliatory strikes, and U.S. officials said they expect Israel to soon launch a ground incursion into the enclave as violence escalates in the conflict-ridden region.

Israel is searching for more than 100 hostages, including Americans, believed to have been taken to Gaza by Hamas. President Biden labeled the actions of Hamas as “sheer evil” in a speech Tuesday.

Since winning legislative elections in 2006, Hamas has repeatedly attacked Israel with rockets and mortars, emerging as a defiant adversary. Israel has retaliated with its superior firepower and a punishing blockade, restricting imports and the movement of civilians in a strategy of collective punishment. The blockade and recurring Israeli strikes have contributed to Gaza’s poor infrastructure and living conditions. Israel declared a full siege of the enclave on Monday, with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant promising “no electricity, no food, no fuel” and calling Hamas militants “savages.”

Hamas launched an invasion into southern Israel on Oct. 7. The U.S.-designated terrorist group governs the Gaza Strip. (Video: Joe Snell/The Washington Post)

Here’s what to know about Hamas and the latest violence.

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