There is growing public pressure on the Israeli government to send the army into the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. But as Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the government fears the consequences.

A new poll shows that 67 percent of Israelis support a large-scale ground operation in Gaza to stop daily Palestinian rocket attacks. Only 25 percent of those surveyed were opposed.

The poll, published in the Hebrew daily Ma'ariv, points to growing public anger over the rocket attacks that have terrorized Israeli towns and farming communities on the Gaza border. Pressure on the government increased last week after an eight-year-old boy lost his leg when a rocket hit the battered town of Sderot.

Israeli analyst Dan Dyker says a ground offensive in Gaza appears inevitable.

"Strategic depth on the ground, control on the ground in Gaza, from a military standpoint, a defense standpoint, is critical to stopping this type of rocket fire. There's really very little other option to do it," said Dyker.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak says he has ordered the army to prepare for an offensive against Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza. Hamas refuses to renounce violence and recognize Israel.

But the government is reluctant to invade heavily-populated Gaza, fearing high casualties among Israeli soldiers and Palestinian civilians.

Dyker says it would also harm peace talks with the moderate Palestinian government in the West Bank, led by President Mahmoud Abbas.

"Both the Europeans and the Americans are opposed to a large-scale ground invasion by Israel because it is their view that the bilateral peace process with the Palestinians would essentially be buried if Israel were to engage in a large-scale ground operation in Gaza," said Dyker.

Palestinian officials confirm that. But with public pressure mounting, many Israeli officials say it is not a question of if Israel will invade Gaza, but when.