Israel’s military said 13 soldiers were killed in a series of attacks in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, the heaviest Israeli death toll in a single day of battle in years.
Hamas militants said they had ambushed Israeli troops and detonated explosives around their vehicle in the Palestinian territory. Other Islamist militants said they had attacked soldiers in a Gaza house.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier that Israel will take “whatever action is necessary” to halt Hamas cross-border rocket attacks from Gaza and restore calm but insisted his forces were doing their utmost to avoid civilian casualties there.
“We try to target military targets and unfortunately there are civilian casualties which we regret and we don’t seek,” Netanyahu told CNN shortly after an Israeli attack on a Gaza neighborhood killed at least 62 Palestinians.
He accused Hamas of deliberately targeting Israeli civilians and of using Gaza residents as “human shields.” Asked how long it would take Israel to complete an operation it says is intended to destroy Hamas weapons tunnels, Netanyahu said it was being done “fairly quickly,” but gave no time frame.
Asked whether Israel intends to reoccupy the Gaza Strip, he said: “Nobody wants to go to excessive military lengths.”
Earlier, two Israeli soldiers were killed in Gaza on Saturday night.
2nd Lt. Bar Rahav, 21, a combat engineer, was killed Saturday night when an anti-tank missile was fired at the engineering vehicle he was operating in the Gaza Strip. 1st Sgt. Bnaya Rubel, 20, an infantry combatant was killed Saturday night in a battle in Gaza.
The ground phase of Operation Protective Edge expanded Saturday night, the IDF said in a statement. The purpose of the expansion, the IDF said, is “to strike a significant blow to Hamas’ terror capabilities and to restore security and stability to Israel’s residents and citizens.”
The expansion came after a day in which the IDF uncovered and demolished 34 tunnel shafts and about a dozen tunnels intended to be used to carry out terror attacks inside Israel.
Since the start of Operation Protective Edge, the IDF has struck 2,570 Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets, and 500 since the start of the ground offensive. More than 1,770 rockets have been launched from Gaza at Israel, with 360 rockets intercepted by the Iron Dome.
Meanwhile, the IDF announced Sunday that it would open a field hospital for injured Gazans on the Israeli side of the Erez crossing.