Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said fighting inside the Gaza Strip will be "long and difficult," with Israeli ground forces now operating in the Palestinian territory for more than 24 hours.
"The war in the [Gaza] Strip will be long and difficult and we are prepared for it," Netanyahu told a news conference after meeting families of hostages held in Gaza.
Netanyahu said the ground operation launched by Israeli troops in Gaza was the second stage in a war against the Islamist group Hamas, and defeating Hamas is an "existential test" for Israel. He also called on the civilian population of Gaza to move to safe areas.
According to the prime minister, contacts to secure the release of hostages are continuing even during the ground offensive, and every effort would be made to rescue the more than 200 hostages held by Hamas.
Netanyahu said the idea of a swap deal of hostages for Palestinian prisoners had been discussed within the Israeli war cabinet. But he declined to elaborate, saying revealing any details would be counterproductive.
He also accused Hamas of using hospitals as command centers and said that "90%" of the Hamas military budget comes from Iran.