Sun, January 04, 2009
World > Middle East > Israeli assault on Gaza

Israel begins Gaza ground incursion to destroy Hamas "terror infrastructure"

2009-01-03 22:30:32 GMT2009-01-04 06:30:32 (Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

Israeli soldiers advance near the border with northern Gaza during a ground operation by the Israeli army late January 3, 2009. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

Firelight is seen after an explosion in north Gaza Strip after Israel started the ground operation on Jan. 3, 2009. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Saturday evening began its ground operation in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, an IDF spokesman told Xinhua. (Xinhua/Yin Bogu)

Israeli soldiers advance near the border with northern Gaza during a ground operation by the Israeli army late January 3, 2009.(Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

Israel infantry soldiers walk in formation on the border as they leave Israel for the northern Gaza Strip, Saturday, Jan. 3, 2009. (AP)

Israeli soldiers advance near the border with northern Gaza during a ground operation by the Israeli army late January 3, 2009. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)

JERUSALEM, Jan. 3 (Xinhua) -- As the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)Cast Lead operation entered its eighth day, the IDF Saturday evening began its ground incursion into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, vowing to destroy "terror infrastructure" of Hamas.

"On Saturday evening, the IDF began its ground incursion into Gaza," an IDF spokesman told Xinhua on the phone, saying that Cast Lead operation is now entering the second stage.

The purpose of the ground incursion is to destroy "terror infrastructure of Hamas," said the spokesman, adding that the IDF soldiers have entered Gaza and exchanged fire with Palestinian militants in Gaza.

"The incursion will last as long as necessary in order to achieve the goals of the operation," he noted.

Local daily Ha'aretz quoted IDF Major Avital Leibovitch, a military spokeswoman, as saying that "the objective is to destroy the Hamas terror infrastructure in the area of operations."

"We are going to take some of the launch areas used by Hamas," she said.

The IDF spokesperson's office issued a statement, emphasizing that this stage of the operation will further the goals of the eight-day offensive as voiced by the IDF until now: to strike a direct and hard blow against Hamas while increasing the deterrent strength of the IDF, in order to bring about an improved and more stable security situation for residents of southern Israel over the long term.

Meanwhile, Ha'aretz reported that Israeli government has approved the call-up of tens of thousands of IDF reservists.

A statement issued by Israeli Prime Minister's office said that in accordance with a secret cabinet discussion Friday, the government ordered the armed forces "to draft the necessary reservists, on a scale of tens of thousands of troops."

Shortly after IDF soldiers entered Gaza, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that the IDF operation in Gaza will be neither short nor easy.

Barak, who made the remarks while addressing the nation in a special televised press conference, told the nation that Israel was not eager to wage war, but could not abandon its citizens, residents of the south, who have been victimized by Hamas rockets.

"The campaign won't be easy and it won't be short," he said, noting that the operation entails the risking of Israeli lives. "I know well the dangers that come with an offensive, and what the heavy price will be."

"I don't want to fool anyone. The residents of southern Israel will also undergo some tough times," the defense minister continued.

He also addressed the possibility of an escalation in violence in northern Israel, along the border with Lebanon, saying that "we hope that the northern front will remain calm, but we are prepared for any possibility."

Hours before the IDF ground incursion, the IDF fired artillery shells into Gaza, which was the first artillery fire since the Cast Lead Operation starting last Saturday.

According to local news service Ynet, IDF artillery cannons began pounding the eastern sector of the Gaza Strip around 4 p.m. (1400 GMT) Saturday.

This is the first time in three years that the IDF has fired artillery shells at Gaza targets, said Ynet, adding that most shells landed in what the Palestinians characterize as the "security zone" close to the Gaza Strip fence.

According to Mo'aweya Hassanein, chief of emergency and ambulance services in the Palestinian health ministry, the Cast Lead operation has so far claimed 462 Palestinians.

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