Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel began its ground operation in Gaza after exhausting all other possible options, and said the operation could expand.
"My instructions ... are to prepare for the possibility of significantly widening the ground operation, and the military is preparing accordingly," he told reporters after convening a meeting of the security cabinet to discuss the Gaza operation.
Netanyahu with defense and intelligence ministers (Photo: Tzvika Tishler)
Netanyahu said Friday that the IDF had been instructed to deliver a blow to Hamas' tunnel network, which it could not do "only from the air."
Thursday some 13 Hamas terrorists were caught attempting to enter Israel through a tunnel, and according to Israel, the need to neutralize the subterranean threat was part of the reasons behind the launch the ground operation, some 10-days after Israel began Operation Protective Edge in Gaza. Until Thursday, the majority of the operation focused on targeting rocket launchers via airforce attacks.
Netanyahu said that Israel decided to embark the mission only after Hamas rejected ceasefire proposals: "The operation came after Israel agreed to the Egyptian and UN proposed ceasefires. In both cases Hamas continued to shoot, and in light of that we chose to begin the operation after exhausting all other options, understanding the without expanding the operation, the price we will pay will be higher."
Elaborating on the mission, Netanyahu said "the IDF is working against Hamas and other Gaza terror organizations through the air, sea and now also land. Our ground forces have begun to hit terror tunnels spanning from Gaza into Israel.
"Our prime mission is returning the quite to Israel's citizens… there is no army as moral as the IDF, and does not strive to harm any innocents, not even one."
Netanyahu also sent his condolences to the family of Eitan Barak, the 20-year-old soldier killed early Friday, saying "unfortunately we lost a soldier and in the name of the government and ministers I wish to send my condolences to the family, and I am sure I speak for all of Israel's citizens."
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon also spoke at the meeting, saying "we will not compromise on Israel's security and will not accept rocket fire on the south.
"Hamas has already begun to pay a heavy price for its actions, and will pay even more dearly until rocket fire stops. Whoever attempts to disrupt our life will regret it."
Referencing the attempted infiltration by 13 Hamas men Thursday, Finance Minister said "the moment Hamas attempted to pull off a mega-terror attack which was to include the kidnap and murder of citizens, Israel was left no choice by to enter Gaza and complete the mission properly."
AP and Reuters contributed to this report