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Focus on the tunnels, Kerry tells Netanyahu

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Expressing concern about civilian casualties, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Israel’s operation in the Gaza Strip should be a “precise” one, targeting Hamas tunnels.

Kerry made the appeal during a telephone conversation late Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the U.S. State Department said in a statement issued hours after the Israel Defense Forces entered Gaza.

“The secretary reaffirmed our strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorist threats emanating from tunnels into Israel and expressed our view that this should be a precise operation to target tunnels, as described in a statement from the Israeli Defense Forces,” Kerry said in the statement distributed by the White House.

The IDF spokesman said on Twitter that the army had so far targeted four tunnels and 21 rocket launchers.

An Israeli soldier died in the incursion.  Eitan Barak, 20, was shot in the northern Gaza Strip, Haaretz reported.

In Gaza, the Israeli incursion resulted in the death of five Palestinians, including a baby, early Friday, according to the Ma’an news agency. The IDF spokesman said on Twitter that 17 terrorists were killed and 13 were captured.

In his statement Kerry said he asked Netanyahu to limit civilian casualties. Separately, his spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said Thursday that Kerry had told Netanyahu that “certainly there’s more that can be done” to prevent civilian casualties. She cited particularly the deaths Wednesday of four boys playing soccer on a beach.

So far, two Israelis and more than 200 Palestinians have died since Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8 in response to rocket fire from Gaza. The operation, which began with air strikes, was broadened Thursday to include ground incursions.

Following the move, Jordan called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council. Psaki said Kerry was in touch with the leaders of Egypt, which borders Gaza and which proffered a cease-fire that Hamas rejected earlier this week, and Qatar, an Arab state that maintains close relations to Hamas.

The IDF called 18,000 reserves troops for duty in connection with the activity in Gaza, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said in a statement.

Several rockets launched from Gazas hit unpopulated areas near Beersheba and Ashdod, Army Radio reported.

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