By I-Hsien Sherwood | ( | First Posted: Nov 19, 2012 04:36 PM EST

A Palestinian firefighter gestures next to his colleagues as smoke rises out of a building that also houses international media offices, after an Israeli air strike witnessed by a Reuters journalist, in Gaza City November 19, 2012. (Photo : REUTERS / Suhaib Salem )

The hacker collective Anonymous has launched more than 44 million cyberattacks against websites of the Israeli government in retaliation for Israeli airstrikes against Gaza over the last six days.

In a document released last week, Anonymous called the attacks by the Israeli Defense Force "barbaric, brutal and despicable treatment of the Palestinian people."

Israel is exchanging heavy rocket fire with Hamas, the militant, elected Palestinian authority in the Gaza Strip. Hamas is demanding an end to Israeli assassinations of its leadership and an end to the current blockade, which prevents people, goods and most aid from entering or leaving the area.

Israel is demanding that Hamas end the rocket attacks which have been intermittent for months but picked up pace with a barrage against Israeli territory last week.

Much of the international community fears Israel may resort to a ground invasion, though support for that tactic is very low even among Israelis, and allies around the world would be hard-pressed to condone that action.

The final straw for Anonymous, however, was the Israeli threat to shut down internet communications in Gaza. The hacker group sees itself as a champion for a free and open internet.

"We are ANONYMOUS and NO ONE shuts down the Internet on our watch," said the statement released on Thursday.

"To the IDF and government of Israel we issue you this warning only once. Do NOT shut down the Internet into the 'Occupied Territories', and cease and desist from your terror upon the innocent people of Palestine or you will know the full and unbridled wrath of Anonymous."

"The war is being fought on three fronts," said Carmela Avner, Israel's chief information officer.

"The first is physical, the second is the world of social networks and the third is cyberattacks. The attackers are attempting to harm the accessibility of Israel's government websites on an ongoing basis. When events like the current operation occur, this sector heats up and we see increased activity. Therefore, at this time, defending the governmental computer systems is of invaluable importance."

While some websites based in Israel have been shut down for brief periods, and confidential data has been leaked, analysts are mixed as to the severity of damage Anonymous can cause.

In any case, it is unlikely that Israel will base policy on this attack, and in the meantime, nearly 100 people in Gaza, including more than 50 civilians, are dead.

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