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'Army must invade': In southern Israel, support grows for action in Gaza

ASHKELON, Israel -- As rockets flew over southern Israel on Monday, a Land Rover packed with camping gear stopped in a field and out stepped a man called Boris who offered to make coffee for a nearby NBC news crew.

Their price for accepting the excellent brew was a harangue about Israel's need to invade Gaza and reduce it to rubble. When interrupted, Russia-born Boris just shouted louder.

"Putin! Putin! What would Putin do?" the man screamed. "Think about it! Putin! A football field he would make in Gaza, a football field! What he do in Chechnya? We do same in Gaza."

Boris's 18-year-old son was among the conscripts who had just finished basic training and was waiting, with his paratrooper unit, in a grove of eucalyptus trees for the order to invade. Father and son had not been in contact for days as all soldiers have had their cell phones taken.

But Boris, who did not give his last name, was sanguine about his son. "We have to do it. No choice."

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Ten miles away, sweeping broken glass, shattered bricks and collapsed plaster walls in her neighbor's apartment, which had suffered a direct hit from a rocket fired from Gaza, Batsheva Schneerson went even further.

"You see that window?" Schneerson asked. 

There was no window -- it had been blown away by the rocket. "Exactly," she said, "the same. That's what we must do. No window. No Gaza."

It's a familiar refrain in Israel's south-west, which has lived through almost a decade of rocket fire from Gaza. Yet while opinion polls show overwhelming support among Israelis -- around 85 percent -- for its air assault on Gaza, only 25-30 percent support a ground invasion.

There was no separate survey for people from the south of the country. Anecdotally, the support there would be almost unanimous.

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Almost every person NBC News spoke to in the south since the fighting began a week ago said there was no choice: The army must invade Gaza and stay as long as it takes to guarantee there will be no more rocket fire from Gaza.  They said they wanted to live their lives in peace, and send their children to school without worrying about whether they would come back in one piece. 

Rina, who would not provide a last name, sat on her steps after a rocket landed a hundred yards away in a neighbor's garden in Ashkelon.

"Afraid?" she said. "No, never, I wouldn't give Hamas that pleasure. I'll sit in my bomb shelter for as long as it takes, but our boys have to show Hamas what's what. Of course the army must invade."


Her neighbor, sitting next to her, didn't seem so sure.

She was hugging her little dog, Yoko, which was still trembling from the explosion five minutes earlier. Ambulances and fire-trucks were still drawing up, police cordoned off the area with crime scene tape and medics ran by.

The two women shook their heads.

"We will survive," Rina said. "We will survive."

Martin Fletcher is the author of "The List", "Breaking News" and "Walking Israel".

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