As Israel launched its ground offensive in Gaza on Saturday night, a Hamas spokesman warned in a televised speech that the coastal strip will become a graveyard for Israeli soldiers.

The spokesman, Ismail Radwan, appeared on Hamas' Al-Aqsa TV shortly after Israel sent its troops into Gaza. It was not clear if the appearance was live or taped.

After the incursion began, Hamas spokespeople and militants fired off fiery warnings to the Israeli forces. In another message, Hamas warned Israeli forces that "Gaza will not be paved with flowers for you, it will be paved with fire and hell."

The militant organization seized control of Gaza in June 2007, following days of bloody street battles with rival Palestinian movement Fatah.

By sending ground troops into the Gaza Strip, Hamas said, Israel was falling into "the trap that our fighters had prepared for its soldiers and tanks."

The movement's armed wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, said in a statement that "the Zionist enemy will see surprises and will regret carrying out such an operation and will be a heavy price. Our militants are waiting with patience to confront the soldiers face to face."

Hamas has long prepared for a ground invasion, digging tunnels and rigging some areas with explosives. At the start of the offensive, Israeli artillery hit some of the border areas, apparently to detonate hidden explosives.