The disturbing civilian death toll in Gaza is a result of new tactics being deployed by Hamas, Steven Erlanger writes in the New York Times. Hamas militants, trained by Hezbollah and Iran, are said to be systematically hiding weapons in schoolyards, mosques and hospitals, fighting in civilian clothes, using tunnels to disappear, and setting up elaborate booby traps. And for its part, Israel is countering with trickery of its own, including officers pretending to be sympathetic Arabs calling Gazans to weasel out local intelligence.
Erlanger calls the battle "a slow, nasty business of asymmetrical urban warfare"; one UN official calls civilians, who are unable to flee because the borders are closed, “the meat in the sandwich.” Unlike past incursions, Israel is treating the current assault as a war, rather than a police operation. Troops are instructed to look after their own safety first, and fight back with massive firepower. “We are very violent,” one army commander says. “We do not balk at any means to protect the lives of our soldiers.”