According to a statement released by Netanyahu's office, the purpose of the ground offensive into the densely populated Gaza Strip is to destroy what Israel calls "terror tunnels" used to supply both Palestinian civilians with desperately needed goods and Hamas and other militant resistance fighters with weapons.
"Israel is committed to act to protect its citizens," the statement read
. "The operation will continue until its goals are reached: To bring quiet to the citizens of Israel for a long period of time, and to seriously harm Hamas and other terrorist organizations."
"We are moving from Iron Dome to an iron fist," said Naftali Bennett, Israel's hawkish economy minister, referring to the Israeli anti-missile defense system, partially funded by the United States, which the IDF claims has intercepted most of the rockets launched from Gaza.
IDF officials said the ground offensive would include "infantry, armored corps, engineer corps, artillery and intelligence combined with aerial and naval support."
Before dawn on Thursday, around a dozen Palestinian fighters tunneled
under the border between Gaza and Israel, emerging near an Israeli town. IDF officials said at least one of the militants was killed in an Israeli air strike.
Following Israel's announcement, Gaza residents and international journalists reported
heavy artillery fire, naval shelling and helicopter fire along the border with the besieged strip, which is home to 1.6 million Palestinians, most of them refugees.
Prior to commencing the ground invasion, Israeli forces ferociously bombed and shelled targets throughout Gaza on Thursday night, resulting in a significant increase in civilian casualties. At least 15 Palestinians have been killed
on Thursday, including at least five children aged 10 or younger. Three members of the Shaheber family, all children, were killed, when their family's home in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City was bombed.
On Wednesday, an Israeli attack targeted
four cousins playing soccer on a Gaza City Beach. The boys, ages 9-11, attempted to flee for their lives but were struck by a second Israeli bomb, killing them and injuring three others.
At least 237 Palestinians and one Israeli have been killed during the 10-day Israeli offensive against Hamas and other Palestinian resistance fighters, who have launched thousands of rockets against Israel over the past several years.
Hamas responded to the news of the ground invasion by calling it "foolish" and predicting it will have "dreadful consequences."