Israel to expand Gaza ground offensive: Army

Israeli soldiers work on their Merkava tanks in an army deployment area near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on July 11, 2014. Israel's army said Sunday it was expanding its ground offensive against the Gaza Strip, as the bloodiest conflict
Israeli soldiers work on their Merkava tanks in an army deployment area near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on July 11, 2014. Israel's army said Sunday it was expanding its ground offensive against the Gaza Strip, as the bloodiest conflict since 2009 entered its 13th day with a death toll of over 350. -- PHOTO: AFP

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israel's army said Sunday it was expanding its ground offensive against the Gaza Strip, as the bloodiest conflict since 2009 entered its 13th day with a death toll of over 350.

"This evening, the ground phase of Operation Protective Edge expands, as additional forces join the effort to combat terror in the Gaza Strip and establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security," the army said in a statement.

The army began the ground offensive late Thursday, after 10 days of aerial and naval bombardment of the besieged Palestinian territory, in a bid to stamp out rocket fire from Gaza militants.

Since the ground operation began, three Israeli soldiers have been killed, including two in a firefight with Hamas militants inside Israeli territory.

Army Chief-of-Staff Lieutenant Colonel Benny Gantz warned Friday that as Israel expanded the ground operation there would be "moments of hardship," alluding to the possibility of further Israeli casualties.

The operation has so far killed 352 Palestinians and five Israelis.