Netanyahu: IDF preparing to increase ground activity in Gaza

(JTA) — The Israel Defense Forces is prepared to substantially expand its incursion into Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu made the announcement Friday during a cabinet meeting held at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv.

“My instructions, and those of the defense minister, to the IDF, with the approval of the Security Cabinet, are to be ready for the possibility of a significant expansion of the ground operation, and the Chief of Staff and the IDF have prepared accordingly,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office quoted him as telling the Cabinet.

Netanyahu said Israel had secured a substantial degree of international support for the operation.

“Through constant, methodical diplomatic and media activity, we have been creating the international space — which is not self-evident –- so that we can take systematic and strong action against this murderous terrorist organization and its terrorist partners,” Netanyahu told his cabinet.

“Unlike in the past, this time there are many in the international community who understand that it is Hamas – and Hamas alone – that is responsible for the victims,” he said. “This is important for the State of Israel.”

The IDF, which has been carrying out strikes in Gaza since the July 8 launch of Operation Protective Edge against Hamas, began ground operations in Gaza on Thursday night, after a failed attempt by 13 militants to penetrate Israel’s Kibbutz Sufa, which is near the border. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said the IDF was targeting tunnels used by terrorists to launch attacks inside Israel.

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asked Netanyahu to focus on terrorist tunnels, the U.S. State Department said.

More than 250 Palestinians, including some civilians, and two Israelis, a civilian and a soldier, have died in the recent conflagration, which began when Hamas increased the volume of its rocket launches from Gaza into Israel.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said: “The operation will continue for as long as necessary; it requires patience until the task is completed. We will expand the ground activity if necessary.”

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