The collateral damage that has been inflicted on the residents of Gaza is a sorrowful consequence of living under the rule of rocket-firing fanatics. It is because of Hamas, and only Hamas, that Palestinians are suffering.

At least some of them know the identity of their tormentors. A New York Times dispatch captured an excruciating moment that took place in a hospital morgue, where a mother had just found half of the body of her 17-year-old daughter.

“May God exterminate Hamas!” screamed the woman in crystal-clear understanding that the terrorist band’s reckless, inhuman actions had brought death to her child.

There will likely be more tragedies as Israel presses an assault on Hamas by air and, now, on the ground. Each will trace to Hamas’s refusal to desist, once and for all, from raining rockets onto Israeli soil. And, perversely, each will increase pressure on Israel to stand down prematurely.

Calls for a truce have mounted with the European Union, the secretary general of the UN, Arab countries, and others urging both sides to come to an immediate ceasefire.

Both sides? Let’s start with one: the bad actor.

All the world knows that Israel would give up the fight in the event Hamas stopped firing and agreed to verifiably disarm. Those terms are both the short-term fix and the long-term solution that the international community should be demanding.

Lacking either one, Israel is waging a high-risk, highly skilled operation to destroy Hamas’s capacity to lob missiles at will into Israeli territory, some with a range of 25 miles. The group’s arsenal is formidable.

More than 3,000 rockets hit Israel in 2008. More than 500 have struck since Hamas ended a “truce” on Dec. 19. And, 10 days into the offensive, Hamas was still able to fire several dozen, including one that blasted an empty kindergarten.

The weapons stores must be dismantled and Hamas’s supply routes — tunnels into Gaza from Egypt — must be shut, with oversight to prevent Hamas from rearming. Israel and the U.S. are properly seeking such terms.

Hamas’s unending barrage had forced hundreds of thousands to live in fear, yet the onslaught drew barely a fraction of the outrage now directed at Israel’s exercise of self-defense.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy went so far as to say, revoltingly, that Israel had hurt the cause of peace in the Mideast by sending ground troops into Gaza. There had been no peace — and there will be no peace until Hamas lacks the will and/or the way to attack.

Given no choice but to push in that direction, the Israeli military has done an extraordinary job of targeting Hamas fighters and arms in crowded environments — while holding down civilian casualties. It is up against demented enemies who sacrifice their own people…people such as the teenage girl whose mother’s prayer should only be answered.

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