The following is a statement released Saturday night by the Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak:
"A few hours ago, Israeli ground forces entered the Gaza Strip as part of operation Cast Lead against the Hamas terrorists and their affiliates and infrastructure in Gaza.
"So far, the Israeli Defense Forces have dealt an unprecedented heavy blow to Hamas. In order to complete their mission we now launched the ground operation.
"I have said all along that our military activities will widen and deepen as much as needed. Our aim is to force Hamas to stop its hostile activities against Israel and Israelis from Gaza, and to bring about a significant change in the situation in Southern part of Israel.
"We have carefully weighed all our options. We are not war hungry but we shall not, I repeat - we shall not allow a situation where our towns, villages and civilians are constantly targeted by Hamas. It will not be easy or short, but we are determined.
"We are well aware of the humanitarian aspect and are doing and will continue to do everything possible to provide all humanitarian needs to Gaza.
"While we are fighting in Gaza, we keep an open eye on the sensitive situation in our northern border. We have no aggressive intentions there. We hope the situation there will remain calm; nevertheless we are ready and alert to face any unwarranted development in that area.
"We are peace seekers. We have restrained ourselves for a long time but now is the time to do what needs to be done. We are determined to afford our citizens what any citizen anywhere in the world is entitled to - peace, tranquility and freedom from threats."