Update as of 3:33 a.m. EDT: According to the latest report from Reuters, citing Palestinian health officials, 23 people have been killed so far in Israel's ground offensive. One Israeli soldier too has been killed in the fighting with Hamas, the report added, citing Israeli officials.
"We are using a very high level of fire power and artillery," Israeli military spokesman Brigadier General Motti Almoz said, according to the report, which added that the Israeli navy fired shells and tracer bullets while Hamas fired rockets into the towns of Ashdod and Ashkelon in Israel's south.
Israel has said its latest offensive is limited in scope and that it is not aimed at dislodging Hamas from its position of dominance in the Gaza Strip, Reuters reported.
Twenty people have been killed in the Gaza Strip after thousands of soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF, launched ground operations Thursday, Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, reported citing the Palestinian health ministry.
The IDF also banned gatherings of more than 1,000 people in open areas in the region, and the prohibited areas reportedly range between 24 miles to 50 miles from the Gaza Strip, which includes the cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Israel launched the ground offensive late on Thursday after 10 days of bombardments from the air and sea failed to quell rocket attacks by Hamas. The military, which is reportedly targeting rocket launchers, tunnels and more than 100 other targets, said that it had killed 14 militants in various exchanges of fire.
An Israeli soldier fighting in the northern Gaza Strip was also killed, IDF wrote on its Twitter account Friday. Reports have said that two soldiers also have been wounded and the IDF is investigating if the soldier's death was caused by friendly fire.
The U.S., on Thursday, reportedly called on Israel to try harder to prevent civilian casualties in its conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
“We continue to urge all parties to do all they can to protect civilians,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters, according to Haaretz. “We have been heart-broken by the high civilian death toll in Gaza.
"The tragic event makes clear that Israel must take every possible step to meet its standards for protecting civilians from being killed," Psaki said. "We will continue to underscore that point to Israel."
On Wednesday, four boys were killed on a Gaza beach by an Israeli strike and three more children were killed in the region on Thursday, giving rise to further concerns over the safety of civilians in the region.
"The Secretary emphasized the need to avoid further escalation and to restore the 2012 cease-fire as soon as possible, reinforced our continuing commitment to the Egyptian initiative as the way to do so, and underscored the importance of Hamas accepting this plan as soon as possible,” the State Department reportedly said, in a statement.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, during a telephonic conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late on Thursday, according to Haaretz, that the U.S. accepted Israel’s attack on a tunnel constructed in Gaza "leading into Israeli territory," if the attack was planned well and it did not harm civilians.
While Israel has not put a time limit on the offensive, Hamas leaders reportedly insist that it will not succeed in keeping them from shooting rockets into Israel.
"What the occupier Israel failed to achieve through its air and sea raids, it will not be able to achieve with a ground offensive. It is bound to fail," Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal said from Qatar, Palestinian Ma’an News agency reported.
About 238 Palestinians have been killed since Israel launched the air and sea offensive on July 8. The conflict that has been the worst in two years has also so far claimed the life of one Israeli civilian.
"I regret that despite my repeated urgings, and those of many regional and world leaders together, an already dangerous conflict has now escalated even further," U. N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, according to Reuters. "I urge Israel to do far more to stop civilian casualties.”