The decision to undertake a ground operation was made with the knowledge that soldiers would be at risk, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said several hours after ground troops began an incursion into the Gaza Strip. "We know there will be dangers, difficulties and victimsâ€¦ It must be said that the ground operation entails dangers to the lives of soldiers," Barak said in a press conference early Saturday night. Barak opened by explaining to the public the need for Israel to proceed with the second stage of Operation Cast Lead, saying that he had made it clear from the very beginning of the maneuver that he intended to expand operations. The decision to widen the operation, he said, was made following "intensive consideration" and after "every possible scenario was examinedâ€¦ We must end the hostile actions against Israel," Barak insisted. "We will not abandon our citizens," he said. "I know very well what dangers are involved in every offensive as well as what the potential heavy price we can pay is. I take full responsibility. This will not be easy. This will not be short," Barak said. The minister expressed his gratitude to the residents of the south, the cities' mayors, police forces, firefighters and the Shin Bet. He acknowledged his faith in the senior IDF command, specifically IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant, saying that there was indeed "who to trust." "We have been biting our lips for long enough, but now we must provide our citizens with what every citizen deserves - peace and quiet," Barak concluded.