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Israel to expand Gaza ground offensive

Israel's army on Sunday said 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.

JERUSALEM: Israel's army in Sunday said 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 on 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.

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

Shortly after the military's announcement, an army statement said two more soldiers had been killed late Saturday, naming them as Bar Rahav, 21, and Bnaya Rubel, 20.

Since the ground operation began, five Israeli soldiers have been killed, including two in a firefight with Hamas militants inside Israeli territory. The operation has so far killed 357 Palestinians and seven Israelis.

Israeli army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said that 70 militants had been killed since the ground operation began. The army said 190 rockets have hit Israel since the ground phase began, out 
of a total of 1,333 since July 8. Of those, 63 and 360 have been intercepted respectively.

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