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The spokesman for the Israeli military has opened a YouTube channel containing footage it says was taken during the assault against Hamas rulers in Gaza. Supporters of Hamas have posted images of the devastating Israeli offensive on Web sites and blogs.
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updated 12/31/2008 1:23:56 PM ET 2008-12-31T18:23:56

Israel's bruising war on the Islamic militants who control Gaza has moved online, where sites like YouTube and Facebook are the new battlegrounds.

In one of the fiercest skirmishes, sides are trading fire over the Israeli military's use of YouTube to explain its campaign against Gaza militants, saying they have terrorized southern Israel with deadly rocket fire.

Supporters of Gaza's Hamas rulers have posted images of the devastating Israeli offensive on both popular Web sites and on blogs, uploading images of the carnage and suffering in the tiny seaside territory.

The militants themselves regularly update their web sites in Arabic and English. In addition, they broadcast images of masked, uniformed fighters on Hamas TV, which was bombed by Israeli warplanes but continues to broadcast from a mobile unit.

Taking its campaign to the virtual world, the military spokesman's office has opened a YouTube channel containing footage it says was taken during the 5-day-old Israeli assault against Gaza's militant Hamas rulers.

One of the aerial surveillance videos shows about a dozen figures the military says are militants loading rockets onto a truck. The men are eventually targeted by an air-launched missile and disappear into a white cloud as the truck explodes.

"The blogosphere and the new media are basically a war zone" in a battle for world opinion, military spokesman Maj. Avital Leibovich said Wednesday. The YouTube channel — and a new blog the military is launching — are an important part of Israel's attempt to explain its actions abroad, she said.

In modern-day warfare, some battles are conducted through the media, says Gideon Doron, former chairman of the government agency that oversaw the privatization of television and radio services in Israel.

"Many of the victories of modern warfare are mediated by the media," Doron said. "We have Internet and all kinds of modern communication, and the Israeli military apparently decided that it has to broadcast its message through these tools."

But just as people have taken sides in the actual fight, so, too, have they taken sides for and against the clips themselves. YouTube briefly yanked the clip on Tuesday, saying it was inappropriate, only to restore it a few hours later, labeling it inappropriate for minors, the military said.

"We were saddened on Dec. 30, 2008 when YouTube took down some of our exclusive footage," the military wrote on its YouTube channel page. "Fortunately, due to blogger and viewer support, YouTube has returned the footage they removed."

YouTube did not immediately reply to an email requesting comment. In the past, YouTube, which is owned by Google Inc., has been pressed to take down videos depicting violence. The site has no automatic review process, so anything posted runs until a viewer flags it and asks that it be taken down.

In May, Sen. Joseph Lieberman complained that the process was flawed because al-Qaida recruitment videos could still be seen on the site.

The military says its clips have attracted more than 230,000 hits since going online Monday.

Israel launched the air assault on Saturday in an effort to curb the rocket barrages launched from Gaza at Israeli towns. Hundreds of airstrikes across the Palestinian territory have caused huge damage and Gaza officials say more than 390 Palestinians have been killed, including dozens of civilians.

Militant rockets have reached farther into Israel than ever before, killing three Israeli civilians and a soldier.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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