Israel’s army said Sunday it was expanding its ground offensive against the Gaza Strip, as the bloodiest conflict since 2009 entered its 13th day with a death toll of over 360.
“This evening, the ground phase of Operation Protective Edge expands, as additional forces join the effort to combat terror in the Gaza Strip and establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security,” the army said in a statement.
The army began the ground offensive late Thursday, after 10 days of aerial and naval bombardment of the Hamas-run territory, in a bid to stamp out rocket fire from Gaza militants.
The ground operation is meant to eradicate Hamas’s large network of tunnels, many used to infiltrate Israel, and weaken its capacity to stage rocket and other terrorist attacks on Israel, according to Israeli officials.
The army says it had uncovered over 34 tunnel shafts since the ground offensive began Thursday night, leading to 14 tunnels.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz warned Friday that as Israel expanded the ground operation there would be “moments of hardship,” alluding to the possibility of further Israeli casualties.
Shortly after the military’s announcement, an army statement said two more soldiers had been killed late Saturday, naming them as Bar Rahav, 21, and Bnaya Rubel, 20.
Since the ground operation began, five Israeli soldiers have been killed, including two in a firefight with Hamas militants inside Israeli territory.
The operation has so far killed 357 Palestinians and seven Israelis, according to Palestinian figures.
IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said that 70 terrorists had been killed since the ground operation began.
The army says 190 rockets have hit Israel since the ground phase began, out of a total of 1,333 fired since July 8. Of those, 63 and 360 have been intercepted, respectively.