By ISABEL KERSHNER and LIZ ROBBINS
The New York Times
A statement from the Israel Defense Forces said that this second stage of the operation was intended to “bring about an improved and more stable security situation for residents of Southern Israel over the long term.”
The statement added that “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.”
Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, said in a statement broadcast on television: “This will not be short. This will not be easy. I do not wish to delude anyone,” adding that the coming days will be difficult for the residents of the south of Israel.
“Our aim is to force Hamas to stop its hostile activity and to bring about a significant change,” Mr. Barak said. “We have carefully weighed our options,” he said, adding that “we have restrained ourselves for a long time but now we have to do what must be done” for peace and tranquillity.
A spokeswoman for Israel Defense Forces, Maj. Avital Leibovich, said in an interview broadcast on CNN that troops were targeting areas responsible for the launching of rockets into Israel, as well as tunnels, bunkers, and training facilities — “everything that is affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target,” Major Leibovich said.
“We have many, many targets, and therefore to my estimate it’s going to be a lengthy operation,” she added, with specifying how long the ground war could last.
Ms. Leibovich said the Israel Defense Forces were avoiding targeting civilians and were trying to give people leaflets and messages warning of the strikes. “Hamas is not putting any efforts to avoid targeting civilian deaths,” she said, referring to rockets launched by Hamas into Israel.
“For us, people that don’t recognize the right for Israel to exist, terrorists which train day after day and try to target as many Israeli civilians as possible, are for us a legitimate target for self defense.”