Israel launches ground operation in Gaza

Israel has launched a ground operation in Gaza, an operation said to be lengthy and likely to increase death toll as Hamas said the price would be high.

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Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said this operation would not be "short and easy."

"Our military activities will enlarge and deepen as required. We have restrained ourselves for a long time, but now is the time to do what needs to be done," he told at a press conference on Saturday.

Mark Regev, Israeli government spokesman, said that Israel's reaction would end when Hamas reforms itself.

Israel's Gaza offensive, which escalated into a ground incursion on Saturday, will take many days, the chief military spokesman said.

"This won't be a school outing," Brigadier Avi Benayahu told Israel's Channel Two television. "We are talking about many long days." 

Israel aims to "take over" areas in Gaza from where militants have fired rockets into the Jewish state, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's office said on Saturday after ground troops entered the enclave.

Israel is calling up thousands of reservists to take part in its ground operation against Hamas in Gaza, Barak's office said on Saturday.

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Another IDF spokesperson told CNN that this is the second stage of the operation against Hamas infrastructure. "We still have many more targets to go," she added.

Defense officials said around 10,000 soldiers have massed along the border in recent days. Heavy artillery fire in the early evening was intended to detonate Hamas explosive devices and mines planted along the border area before troops marched in.

Hamas's armed wing vowed on Saturday that Israel would pay a "high price" for the ground operation it has launched on the Islamic movements Gaza Strip stronghold, the AFP reported.

"The enemy will pay a high price for its operation in northern Gaza Strip," said a statement from Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades read out on the movements Al-Aqsa television station, the report said.

An SMS message sent by Hamas military wing, Izzedine al-Qassam, said that "the Zionists started approaching the trap which our fighters prepared for them."

On Friday Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal promised bloodshed if Israeli ground troops enter Gaza.

"As for you, the soldiers of the enemy whose leadership are getting you ready to enter Gaza in a ground attack, you need to know that doom will await you and you will be killed, injured and captured," Meshaal, speaking in Syria, said on the Al Jazeera television network Friday.

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Israel's goal is considered to be ending Hamas rule or rocket fire or both, Israeli officials previously said.

On Friday Vice Premier Haim Ramon said in an interview on Israeli television, Israel must not end this operation with Hamas in charge of Gaza.

"What I think we need to do is to reach a situation in which we do not allow Hamas to govern," Ramon told Channel One. "That is the most important thing."

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