Israeli fighter jets fired at Gaza from morning to evening, spreading fear and chaos throughout the strip.

The target of the strikes was Hamas infrastructure - security compounds, government buildings and police stations.

Most of the dead were policemen, including the Hamas chief of police, but Gaza is one of the most overcrowded territories in the world. Wherever Hamas operates, civilians live and work close by. The dead in Gaza include women and children.

So why is Israel acting now and with such force?

Election looms
Israel's prime minister says that is his objective: to protect Israeli citizens living close to the Gaza border.

To achieve this, his defence minister, Ehud Barak, said Israel would continue, widen and intensify its Gaza operation.

Israel holds parliamentary elections in just over a month's time.

The Israeli public has a generally low opinion about how their government has handled what they call "Hamastan" - Hamas-controlled Gaza.

Obama factor
It is also possible that Israel has decided to act against Hamas now, during the last days of a friendly Bush administration in the United States.

The United States is arguably the only outside power Israel deeply cares about. President-elect Barack Obama is seen in Israel as being more sympathetic to the Palestinians.
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