ON THE GAZA BORDER — -- “The Cruel Lady” rolled along.
That’s the nickname the Israeli soldiers use to describe their armored personnel carrier, or APC – it’s basically an oven on wheels. ABC News traveled into Gaza on an APC with troops from the Israeli Defense Forces’ 188 Armored Brigade today, witnessing a rarely-seen side of Israel’s conflict with Hamas, now in its third week.
The soldiers in “The Cruel Lady” were accompanied by two tanks, all under the command of Col. Tomer Ifrah.
Ifrah says he’s proud of the work he and his troops are doing.
The mounting civilian casualties in Gaza, especially the children, affect him, he said.
"I see my own kids," he said. "A child is a child is a child. We do everything we can to avoid hurting innocents. It is the first thing we brief every day. But sometimes, it happens."
The squad was commanded by Barak Lanes, 29, a veteran of Operation Cast Lead. Lanes said he was scared to go into Gaza today. He has a 1-year-old boy at home, and Lanes hopes his son never has to enter the army.
The unit traveled from Kissufim Crossing, where incoming mortar fire sent us scrambling for shelter. The unit's destination today was a newly-discovered tunnel on the outskirts of Gaza City.
On the way, we stopped. One of the tanks had spotted what they feared was a Hamas militant team with an anti-tank missile. The tank took cover. Ifrah assessed the situation. A school housing refuges was located nearby – too close to engage the threat, Ifrah decided – so another route was taken.
The tunnel the soldiers visited was uncovered the day before when an armored vehicle sank into the sandy ground under what were once greenhouses, but now were sandy ruins. The IDF dug it out this morning.
The tunnel stretched into darkness, sided in concrete and narrow.
Two Israeli soldiers stood with their guns pointed down the shaft, scanning for potential threats. Hamas militants have been using the tunnels for sneak attacks, a main focus for the Israeli forces.
The soldiers decided against entering the tunnel – booby-traps are always a possibility. The Israelis believe there may be other entrances, too.
Entrances to the tunnel had already been found at a nearby house. But at the moment, that location was too difficult to reach.
As the soldiers stood at the tunnel’s entrance, sniper fire peppered down. The Israelis countered with suppressing fire and a smokescreen. We hustled back to our vehicles, and back to Israel.