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(photo credit: AP [file])
The explosions started to escalate at around 4 p.m. as the IDF let loose its artillery cannons along the Gaza border, with the aim of "softening" open areas in the Strip that are believed to be filled with booby traps and land mines.
At the same time, thousands of troops from a wide range of infantry, armored and engineering units began taking up positions along the border before the invasion.
Soldiers from the Education Corps, standing at the entrance to a kibbutz, broke down crying as the soldiers began moving towards the border.
"This is not our first time going into Gaza," said one soldier from the Givati Brigade. "We had a talk earlier today with our battalion commander who instilled within us motivation and told us to hit them hard."
Another soldier, from the Golani Reconnaissance Unit, stopped at a nearby gas station to buy a few candy bars before entering Gaza.
"We know what we're doing," the soldier said. "Golani has been in Gaza before and we were successful. We expect the same results this time as well."
Dozens of buses carrying soldiers passed by the pastoral kibbutz to deploy them at the different entrances set up into the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, all along the border, an electrical blackout was imposed on communities to hide the IDF preparations and deployment. At several points - near Erez, Kfar Aza, Nizmit and Kerem Shalom - large contingents of journalists gathered to see the gunfights in the Gaza Strip.
Bullets could be seen flying in both directions as well as into the air, likely attempts by Hamas to shoot down IAF attack helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles.
Several reservists who were called up over the weekend said they were told that they would be sent into Gaza in the coming days. With great trepidation, they expressed support for the operation.
"It's not simple to leave your family and be called up to a war," a reservist named Arik said. "We are ready for whatever we will be ordered to do. This is our job."
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