US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Israel on Thursday to limit collateral damage in Gaza, urging the Jewish state to be "precise" in its ground assault on the Palestinian enclave.
Hours before Kerry's phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel launched a ground operation aimed at hitting the Palestinian militant Hamas group. By the early morning hours Friday, the death toll in Gaza hit 247.
In his call with Netanyahu, Kerry "emphasized the need to avoid further escalation and to restore the 2012 ceasefire as soon as possible, reinforced our continuing commitment to the Egyptian initiative as the way to do so and underscored the importance of Hamas accepting this plan as soon as possible," a State Department statement said.
The Israeli leader, in turn, stressed to Kerry the "imminent threat" to Israeli civilians posed by Hamas tunnels from the Gaza Strip to Israel, according to the statement.
Kerry "reaffirmed our strong support for Israel's right to defend itself against terrorist threats emanating from tunnels into Israel and expressed our view that this should be a precise operation to target tunnels," according to his office.
"The secretary also reiterated our concern about the safety and security of civilians on both sides and the importance of doing everything possible to prevent civilian casualties."
Hamas, the Islamist rulers of Gaza, had rejected a ceasefire intended to start on Tuesday and continued firing rockets at Israeli cities.