Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday said Israel was set to “significantly expand” its ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, launched late Thursday night.
In his first remarks since the incursion began, the prime minister said Israeli troops were engaging terrorists and the terrorist infrastructure by land, sea and air.
At a press conference with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF chief Benny Gantz following a security cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said air strikes alone could not deal a significant blow to the network of tunnels used by Hamas militants to stage cross-border attacks on Israel.
In his remarks, Netanyahu referred to an attempted attack on Thursday by 13 Gaza terrorists who managed to infiltrate southern Israel by tunnel before being spotted by the army.
“It’s not possible to deal with the terror tunnels only from the air, and our soldiers are doing so from the ground. Even so, there’s no 100% guarantee of success, but we are doing our best,” said the PM.
“My instruction, along with the defense minister’s and with the approval of the security cabinet, is to prepare for a significant expansion of the ground operation,” he went on.
The ground incursion, he said, came after Israel accepted the Egyptian initiative for a ceasefire earlier this week and the UN’s request for a 5-hour humanitarian truce on Thursday.
“We chose to launch this operation after exhausting the last options and with the understanding that without the ground operation, the price we would pay could be much higher,” he said.
Praising the IDF as a moral army, Netanyahu said that its troops act against terror targets only and that every civilian casualty is regretted.
Netanyahu blamed Hamas for the loss of life on the Palestinian side, saying terror organizations use civilians as human shields.
AFP contributed to this report.