(ABC News) -- Israel’s military is prepared for a “significant expansion” of its ground offensive into Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today, as troops pushed deeper into Gaza to destroy rocket launching sites and tunnels.
"It is not possible to deal with tunnels only from the air. It needs to be done also from the ground," Netanyahu said before a special Cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv.
"We chose to begin this operation after the other options were exhausted and with the understanding that without the operation the price we will pay can be very high."
Israel launched the ground operation Thursday following a 10-day slugfest featuring rocket and mortar attacks.
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At least 20 Palestinians have died and 200 others were injured since the ground invasion began. Additionally, one Israel soldier -- identified as Gt. Eitan Barak, 20 -- died while fighting Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip, the Israeli Defense Forces said. The casualty marks the first Israeli death among troops.
The death toll in the conflict has reached 260, with many of the victims civilians, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
Israeli troops targeted the tunnels because they are viewed as an “utmost threat” by Israel, an IDF spokesman said, with Hamas previously using the tunnels to sneak across the Gaza-Israel border.
According to a statement from the Israel Defense Forces this morning, "As of last night IDF paratroopers uncovered eight tunnel access points across the Gaza Strip."
The ground attack occurred following failed cease-fire efforts. Israel twice halted its attacks and has been negotiating with Hamas for a more permanent ceasefire in Cairo, Egypt. Hamas rejected the plans, demanding guarantees to ease the blockade on Gaza.
The IDF said it sent troops into Gaza "Following 10 days of Hamas attacks by land, air and sea, and after repeated rejections of offers to deescalate the situation."
The invasion was punctuated by the thud of tank shells echoing across Gaza, often just a few seconds apart. Heavy plumes of black smoke were visible across Gaza City.
The battle has broken a two-year lull in hostilities between Israel and Hamas and was triggered by the slaying of three Israeli teens and revenge burning death of a Palestinian teen. Angry protests escalated to rocket launches and retaliatory air strikes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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