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The strategy of the Israel Defense Forces is to utilize tremendous firepower in order to protect the ground forces during the fighting in built-up areas, a senior officer explained to journalists yesterday.

Speaking to the media through a secure telephone, the officer stressed that "from our point of view, being careful means being aggressive."

The officer acknowledged that the ground offensive is causing a great deal of damage, not only to Hamas, but also against civilian infrastructure. "It will take many years in order to restore this area to what it was before," he said.

"When we suspect that a Palestinian fighter is hiding in a house, we shoot it with a missile and then with two tank shells, and then a bulldozer hits the wall. It causes damage but it prevents the loss of life among soldiers."

The officer said that his forces were expected to complete the clearing of the area they were assigned by today.

He emphasized that his forces "entered the Gaza Strip like in a war and not a routine security operation. Hamas has avoided confronting us directly because of the firepower that was used when we went in. It had an initial shock effect and broke down orderly resistance. We do not see battalion- or company-size units fighting against us, but much smaller pockets of resistance."

The soldiers are now busy with searching tunnels and homes. In many homes, usually those belonging to active Hamas members, escape tunnels were uncovered, as well as large quantities of military equipment. In addition to small arms, the soldiers found anti-tank missiles, large explosive devices and even dirt bikes, which were most likely intended for use in attempts to abduct IDF soldiers.

The same senior officer said that in the areas where his troops were operating, the civilians are fleeing.

"We saw homes where the meals were left uneaten. We see columns of women and children with white flags, and of course we let them pass toward Gaza City. On the other hand, every two hours there are intelligence warnings about a female suicide bomber in the area, so most of the soldiers also regard a convoy of civilians as a real threat."

From the field, officers are reporting that Hamas is preparing for a long-term struggle. In one area, soldiers spent the night in a building only to find the next day that an explosive device had been laid in the structure next door, designed to be set off by the troops tripping a wire.

In another case, soldiers found explosive devices hidden behind a piano, while in other instances, troops shot and killed would-be suicide bombers - whose corpses were laden with explosives.

Much of the ground offensive is concentrating on the northern portions of the Strip, in areas where rockets are fired against Be'er Sheva, Ashdod and Yavne. The presence of IDF forces in the area has already affected the launch of longer-range rockets from the area.

The senior officer told the press that the cooperation between the ground forces and the air force has been exemplary.