Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Saturday that Israel's campaign against Islamic Hamas militants in Gaza will not be short, nor will it be easy.

Israel launched a ground operation against Hamas on Saturday after mounting a bruising air assault last Saturday. The campaign is meant to curb rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza on southern Israel.

Addressing the nation in a special televised press conference following the launch of the ground invasion, Barak said that Israel was not eager to wage war, but could not abandon its citizens, residents of the south, who have been victimized by Hamas rockets.

"The campaign won't be easy and it won't be short," he said, emphasizing that the operation entails the risking of Israeli lives. "I know well the dangers that come with an offensive, and what the heavy price will be."

"I don't want to fool anyone. The residents of southern Israel will also undergo some tough times," Barak continued.

The defense minister also addressed the possibility of an escalation in violence in northern Israel, along the border with Lebanon. "We hope that the northern front will remain calm, but we are prepared for any possibility," he said.