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MELBOURNE, Fla. — The bruising battle between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has carved out a bloody new front in social media — one that has bypassed traditional news outlets and burned a straight path toward advocates on all sides.

A week after the Jewish state pushed its tanks and soldiers into Gaza to curb mortar fire from Hamas, both advocates for Israel and Palestinians are using a crossfire of videos and Internet memes to shape the emotion behind the conflict.

The postings — jumbled amid slogans for peace and prayers — include everything from the gruesome photos of lifeless bodies of children mingled with the bombed out rubble of a building to images depicting distraught families mourning Israeli soldiers who have fallen in the battle to keep the nation safe.

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Paying heed to the power of communication, Gary Cristofaro, a senior pastor with First Assembly of God in Melbourne, Fla., has been providing short dispatches from Israel via Facebook. Across his feed are texts talking about the determination of Israelis to live their lives amid the threat of falling rockets. There also are videos of Jews from the troubled nation of Ukraine, with the fear of anti-Semitism fresh in their minds, finding themselves in a nation facing a long list of enemies desiring its destruction.

"We were in Ashdod today when Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system shot down two missiles coming to Ashdod from Gaza," said Cristofaro, via Facebook just days after arriving in the Holy Land last week.

Cristofaro, a self-described Christian Zionist and longtime advocate for Israel, has been on an extended mission with the nonprofit organization Ezra International. In a twist of timing, Cristofaro left the strife-torn, Eastern European nation of Ukraine just after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down.

"When I arrived, the Russian army was poised to attack and as I mentioned the Ukrainian army was short on ammo. The people there are worried yet quite resolute about defending their freedom. Hatred for Putin seems to be a unifying theme for western Ukrainians," Cristofaro said via Facebook.

He arrived in Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport days before the Israeli army's ground invasion of Gaza got underway and before the Federal Aviation Administration banned flights into the airport after a rocket from Gaza landed a mile away. He left the Holy Land on Friday, returning to Ukraine.

He posted a link to an israelnationalnews.com story about Hamas rockets being intercepted over the airport while he was there accompanied by these words: "Hi everyone, this happened while I was at the airport. I'm safe."

The struggle for control of the deadly conflict's narrative has not escaped those advocating for the Palestinians living along the Mediterranean-kissed strip of land at Israel's southwestern border.

The televised images of fireballs lighting up the night skies in Gaza are joined in tweets and posts with even more graphic images and comments. Zohra Fazal, 32, is a Muslim born in Tanzania who now lives in West Melbourne. Her Facebook page is filled with updates about Gaza and what she calls "Occupied Palestine." There is also video she shared of a girl lying bloodied on a hospital gurney, just as a doctor tells a man identified as her father the heartrending news that his child is dead.

"It is important to tell both sides of the story. I'm not an Arab, I'm not a Palestinian ... but I keep thinking about how in 1994 there was genocide in Rwanda and how nothing was done," said Fazal. By most accounts, nearly 800,000 people were slain during the ethnic turmoil that gripped Rwanda. "Maybe if we had Facebook then, or in the '30s or '40s, then maybe we could have prevented the Holocaust."

The 20-day conflict has left more than 1,060 Palestinians dead. In Israel, 46 have died, including 43 soldiers, two civilians and a Thai worker.

"I'm disgusted by what Hamas is doing, what ISIS is doing in Syria and Iran but I also think it is extremely wrong for Israel to fire into civilian areas where they are hitting families. I don't think it is justified, and I'm doing my bit to share that info," Fazal said.

In a savvy move to get more of its message to the masses, Palestinian authorities have issued guidelines for sympathizers and social media activists on Facebook and Twitter to help control how Hamas and its mission are portrayed. There are also hashtags, #GazaUnderFire and #GazaCrisis, and guidelines that direct social media users to call anyone killed in the Israeli incursion "innocent civilians." Posts should begin with "In response to the cruel Israeli attack," according to the Hamas Interior Ministry.

Lost in the midst of the texts, posts and shares are the human costs on all sides, say those with deep, personal connections with the situation.

"Children are being killed and no one says anything. This is a very bad situation. I can't even get to talk to my uncles on the phone," said Rami Sabawi, a 54-year-old Melbourne resident who relies on a number of media sources for information. He is sickened by the destruction leveled against Gaza, one of the most densely populated urban areas in the world.

"To me, what the Israelis are doing is a war crime, genocide," Sabawi said.

To Cristofaro, the other side of the story that he shares through social media's war of words is the desire for Israelis to live in peace with their neighbors. That, Cristofaro says, can't happen if Hamas continues with its stated goal to kill and kidnap Israelis. That struggle for normalcy amid falling bombs was made a reality as Cristofaro sat to talk with a Ukranian family in Ashkelon when sirens warning of incoming rocket fire from Gaza cut through the afternoon quiet.

"This is life in Israel. The good news is this family is still better off in Israel than Ukraine. They have a son who had a serious vision impairment. If he had stayed in Ukraine, he would have gone blind. In Israel, he has received the treatment he needed."

Contributing: The Associated Press

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