The head of the military wing of Hamas, Ahmed al-Jabari, was assassinated during a series of Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, following a week of escalating violence.

Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade since 2006 when Israel pulled out its settlers. Deprived of building materials, food and medicines, the territory is sometimes described as an "open air prison".

Israel says their recent aerial bombardment marks the beginning of a broader operation against Hamas in Gaza, who they blame for rocket attacks into southern Israel.

Hamas says Israel has "opened the gates of hell" and they will "regret" the military campaign.

North Gaza

Population: 270,246 (2007)
Houses damaged or destroyed during 2008-2009 war on Gaza: 1920

During the Gaza offensive of 2008-9, North Gaza was affected the most by Israeli mortars and missiles as 1920 homes were hit or destroyed. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the Governorate is the Gaza Strip's third most populated with 40,262 households in 2007 encompassing three municipalities, two rural districts and one refugee camp.

Since the recent escalation, the Erez crossing, which connects Gaza to Israel has been closed.

Erez crossing from Gaza into Israel [AFP/Getty Images]

Gaza City

Population: 496,411 (2007)
Houses damaged or destroyed during 2008-2009 war on Gaza: 1601

Gaza City is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, the economy has been devastated by the land, air and sea blockade imposed by Israel which was partially eased in 2010.

Unemployment hovers around 25 per cent and the humanitarian situation has been described as dire.

Deir al-Balah

Population: 205,535 (2007)
Houses damaged or destroyed during 2008-2009 war on Gaza: 653

Deir al-Balah - Known for its date palms and farming, the city is located in the centre of the Gaza Strip. Deir al-Balah has faced Israeli incursions regularly, as the city is a stronghold of the Qassam brigade. Towards the north of the city, there is a large refugee camp with a population of 20,000 people in an area of 0.16km

A Palestinian picks dates from palm trees during the date picking season [EPA]

Khan Yunis

Population: 270,979 (2007)
Houses damaged or destroyed during 2008-2009 war on Gaza: 397

Officially the second city in Gaza, Khan Yunis has the highest unemployment rate in the Palestinian territories. The city has a refugee camp with 72,000 inhabitants.

Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike in Khan Yunis [AFP]


Population: 173,372 (2007)
Houses damaged or destroyed during 2008-2009 war on Gaza: 785

Situated in the south near the Egyptian border, the city of Rafah is known for the Rafah-Egyptian border crossing which has been reopened after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.

Gaza's only airport, the Yasser Arafat airport, is located towards the south of the city, but since 2001 has been non-operational after the Israelis bombed it.

Palestinians waiting to cross the Rafah border into Egypt [AP]

Curated #Gaza twitter list by Al Jazeera. Follow @AJElive

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