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Updated Jul 17, 2014 - 1:14 pm

Israel begins ground offensive in Gaza

PHOENIX -- Israel has begun a ground operation into Gaza after the two sides exchanged rocket fire for more than a week.

The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) confirmed the anti-terrorist operation via Twitter.

The IDF also tweeted the ground operation was designed to target tunnels used by Hamas to gain access to Israel.

As the ground assault began, hotels along a beach were evacuated.

Earlier Thursday, the United States called on Israel to do more to protect residents of Gaza.

Noting the deaths a day earlier of four boys who were killed on a Gaza beach by an Israeli strike, the State Department said the high civilian death toll in Gaza has been "heartbreaking." Three more children were killed in Gaza on Thursday.

Still, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki also criticized Hamas militants in Gaza who continue to fire rockets and mortars into Israel, prolonging the latest round of violence in the Mideast that has so far killed 235 Palestinians and at least one Israeli.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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