Benjamin Netanyahu
Some 27 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier have been killed since Israel's ground invasion of Gaza began on Thursday. Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Friday that the Jewish state is preparing to “significantly widen” its ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.

Thousands of Israeli troops entered Gaza on Friday in a bid to destroy the tunnel network that links Gaza to Israeli territory, the BBC reports. Israel alleges that militants in Gaza use the tunnels to launch attacks, store weapons and hide from military reprisal. Speaking in a televised cabinet session at Tel Aviv military headquarters, Netanyahu asserted that an incursion was required, as air strikes alone were ineffective without ground support.

"Last night our forces began a ground operation to hit the terror tunnels crossing from Gaza into Israel's territory," Netanyahu said. “It is not possible to deal with the tunnels only from the air.”

“My instructions… are to prepare for the possibility of significantly widening the ground operation, and the military is preparing accordingly.”

Health officials in Gaza said that 27 Palestinians have been killed since Israel’s ground offensive began Thursday, Reuters reports. The dead included three Palestinian children who were reportedly killed by Israeli tank fire. Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that opposes Israel, said that its enemy will “pay a heavy price” for the invasion.

"Netanyahu is killing our children and will pay the price,” Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said. “The ground invasion doesn't frighten us and the occupation army will sink in Gaza's mud."

At least 258 Palestinians have been killed since military clashes began in the region on July 8, according to Gaza officials. Israel reported that one soldier has died and several others have been wounded since the escalation began on Friday.