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"I urge Israel to do far more to stop civilian casualties," said Ban. "There can be no military solution to this conflict."
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."
Still, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki also criticized Hamas militants who continue to fire rockets and mortars into Israel, prolonging the latest round of violence.
Thousands of Israeli soldiers had massed on the border with Gaza in recent days, waiting for the order to go in.
Israel initially called up 48,000 reserve soldiers and later Thursday, the Cabinet authorized 18,000 more, the military said.
The ground operation followed a brief truce in which Israel held fire to allow Gazans to stock up on food and other necessities after being largely holed up at home since the conflict began last month.
Since July 8, Israeli strikes have hit more than 2,000 targets in Gaza and Hamas launched nearly 1,500 rockets at Israel, the Israeli military has said.
Israel last carried out a major ground offensive in Gaza in January 2009.
During that three-week campaign, some 1,400 Palestinians were killed, including hundreds of civilians. Thirteen Israelis also died. Israel has blamed Hamas for the heavy civilian toll, saying the militant group staged attacks from heavily populated residential areas, as well as mosques and schools.
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