As troops moved south across the border into Gaza Strip late Saturday, the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement calling it the "second phase" of Israel's attempt to disable Hamas by force.

"The objective of this stage is to destroy the terrorist infrastructure of the Hamas in the area of operation, while taking control of some of rocket launching area used by the Hamas," according to the statement, which was attributed to a defense spokesman.

The statement also affirms that the escalation has the backing of the Security Cabinet, adding that Israel has taken steps to protect Palestinian civilians.

The statement says that "the residents of Gaza are not the target of the operation. Those who use civilians, the elderly, women and children as 'human shields' are responsible for any and all injury to the civilian population. Anyone who hides a terrorist or weapons in his house is considered a terrorist."

The following is the full statement released Saturday night by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs:

"A short while ago IDF forces began to implement the second stage of Operation Cast Lead. Land forces have begun to maneuver within the Gaza Strip.The objective of this stage is to destroy the terrorist infrastructure of the Hamas in the area of operation, while taking control of some of rocket launching area used by the Hamas, in order to greatly reduce the quantity of rockets fired at Israel and Israeli civilians.

"The IDF Spokesperson emphasizes that this stage of the operation will further the goals of Operation Cast Lead as communicated till now: To strike a direct and hard blow against the 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.

"Large numbers of forces are taking part in this stage of the operation including infantry, tanks, engineering forces, artillery and intelligence with the support of the Israel Air Force, Israel navy, Israel Security Agency and other security agencies.

"The operation is in accord with the decisions of the Security Cabinet. This stage of the operation is a part of the IDF's overall operational plan, and will continue on the basis of ongoing situational assessments by the IDF General Staff.

"The forces participating in the operation have been highly trained and were prepared for the mission over the long period that the operation was planned. The Commander of the operation is Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant, GOC Southern Command.

"The IDF and the Homefront Command have taken the necessary steps to protect the civilian population. All residents of Southern Israel are requested to follow the directives of the Homefront command as communicated via the media.The IDF Spokesperson wishes to reiterate that the residents of Gaza are not the target of the operation. Those who use civilians, the elderly, women and children as 'human shields' are responsible for any and all injury to the civilian population. Anyone who hides a terrorist or weapons in his house is considered a terrorist.

"On the basis of a situation analysis, The IDF is taking steps to raise the level of alert for its forces in other areas of the country."