Some 10,000 Israeli troops backed by hundreds of tanks and heavy armored bulldozers rolled into the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip on Saturday evening in an escalation of Israel's war to end the terrorist rocket threat on its citizens.
Heavy fighting was reported on the outskirts of Gaza City, and Israel's Channel 2 News reported that several dozen Hamas gunmen had been killed in the initial push.
Media analysts noted that the Israelis had faced relatively mild Hamas resistance, and warned that the terror group could be trying to lure the Israeli army deep into the allies of Gaza City where ambushes will have been prepared.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak warned Israel in a televised address that the operation would neither be short nor easy, but that Israel was determined to reestablish its deterrence against terrorist aggression.
Israel has been pounding Gaza from the air for the past week, but military and political leaders remained indecisive about whether or not to send in the soldiers and tanks massed on the Gaza border for fear of heavy casualties on both sides.
But with the air strikes failing to put an end to the terrorist rockets - Hamas actually escalated both the quantity and quality of the attacks - Israel's security cabinet voted to move to the next phase. The decision included the call-up of tens of thousands of reserve soldiers in case the situation warrants the injection of more troops.
While there were scattered small demonstrations against the Israeli incursion around the world, Western leaders - including the US and Europe - voiced support for the move, insisting that Israel continues to act in a defensive manner.
The rotating presidency of the European Union went to the Czech Republic at the weekend, and the Czech president wasted no time issuing a public statement of support for Israel's right to utilize severe military force in the defense of its people.