Palestinian Islamic Hamas movement vowed on Saturday to hit back Israeli army's ground operation with heavy blow.
"The enemy will pay a high price for its operation in northern Gaza Strip," Hamas military wing Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades said in a statement.
Al-Qassam Brigades said that it "declare that the Zionist enemy is getting close to the trap that our fighters had prepared for its soldiers and tanks."
"The Zionist enemy would see surprises and would regret carrying out such an operation and will be a heavy price. Our militants are waiting with patience for confronting the soldiers face to face," said the statement.
Identical Israeli and Palestinian sources said on Saturday night that the Israeli army began its ground operation into the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
The ground operation has been started following eight days of intensive warplanes airstrikes on the 1.5 million population of the enclave, targeting buildings, including mosques, houses and security installations.
Israeli Televisions Channel I and II quoted an Israeli army spokesman as saying that the Israeli army began on Saturday night a ground operation into the Gaza Strip to rein on Palestinian militants who launch rockets at Israel.
Palestinian witnesses living in northern and eastern Gaza Strip said that they can hear the sounds of the Israeli tanks and armored vehicles engines, adding that columns of Israeli tanks stationed near the borders are preparing to enter.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Saturday evening began its ground operation in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, an IDF spokesman told Xinhua.
The Cast Lead operation starting last Saturday is now entering its second stage, said the spokesman, adding that the purpose of the operation is to destroy "terror infrastructure of Hamas."
The aim of ongoing Gaza ground incursion is to stop the hostile aggression of the enemy, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Saturday evening.
"We don't want war, but we won't abandon citizens victimized by Hamas," Barak was quoted by local daily Ha'aretz as saying shortly after the ground incursion began.
"We will provide Israeli citizens with peace and quiet," he stressed.
"I know well the dangers and the price of military operation," said the defense minister, noting that "I don't want to fool anyone, Gaza operation won't be short and easy."
(Xinhua News Agency January 4, 2008)