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.
BREAKING NEWS: A large IDF force has just launched a ground operation in the Gaza Strip. A new phase of Operation Protective Edge has begun.— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) July 17, 2014
The IDF also tweeted the ground operation was designed to target tunnels used by Hamas to gain access to Israel.
This is no limited ground invasion of #Gaza - includes troops, artillery, engineers— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) July 17, 2014
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.