Nearly 20 Palestinians and an Israeli soldier were killed as troops clashed with militants in Gaza today after Israel launched a ground operation aimed at destroying tunnels and halting rocket fire by the enclave's Hamas rulers. The Israeli military announced its first casualty since the start of the ground operation late yesterday, saying one soldier was killed in the northern Gaza Strip. The circumstances behind his death were not immediately clear, with Hamas' military wing saying it ambushed Israeli units in the northern town of Beit Lahiya and caused casualties but Israeli media saying it was likely a case of friendly fire.
Gaza health officials says 19 Palestinians have been killed since the ground operation began, while the Israeli military says it killed 14 militants in different exchanges of fire. In a statement, the military said it targeted rocket launchers, tunnels and more than 100 other targets. The military said "a number" of soldiers were injured throughout the night. Israel says it has launched an open-ended assault on several fronts, with the primary aim being to destroy underground tunnels into Israel built by Hamas that could be used to carry out attacks. Earlier yesterday 13 heavily armed Hamas militants had tried to sneak into Israel through such a tunnel, but were stopped by an airstrike after they emerged around 800 feet inside Israel. (Read more Gaza stories.)