"Following 10 days of Hamas attacks by land, air and sea, and after repeated rejections of offers to de-escalate the situation, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) has initiated a ground operation within the Gaza Strip," Xinhua quoted the IDF as saying in a statement.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon instructed the military to embark on the ground operation late Thursday, the Prime Minister's Office said.
The operation aims to "damage the underground tunnel terrors constructed in Gaza leading into Israeli territory ... such a tunnel was used earlier this morning by Hamas terrorists to enter Israeli territory, with intent to case massive harm to Israeli civilians."
Meanwhile, Israeli helicopter gunships were seen hovering over the northern Gaza Strip, where thousands of Palestinians had been warned by the IDF to stay in shelters or any protected areas, media reports here said.
The ground incursion aims to "establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security without continued indiscriminate terror, while striking a significant blow to Hamas' terror infrastructure," the IDF statement said.
The operation is led by the IDF's Southern Command with close coordination between IDF units including infantry, armoured corps, engineer corps, artillery, and intelligence combined with aerial and naval support, the statement said.
Earlier Thursday, the IDF thwarted an attempted infiltration by Hamas militants through a tunnel under the Gaza border. The tunnel was quickly destroyed by the Israeli air force.
Hamas said all its 13 members in the tunnel had safely evacuated.