Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected Hamas' latest offer for a ceasefire and return of hostages held in the Gaza Strip, calling it "delusional".
The Israeli leader renewed a pledge to destroy Hamas, insisting that total victory against Hamas was the only solution to the four-month-old Gaza war.
"Surrendering to the delusional demands of Hamas ... will not only not bring the release of the hostages, it will invite another massacre. It will invite a grave disaster for the state of Israel that none of our citizens is willing to accept," the Israeli leader told reporters on Wednesday.
"Continued military pressure is a necessary condition for the release of the hostages," Netanyahu said.
Hamas proposed a ceasefire of 4-1/2 months, during which all hostages would go free, Israel would withdraw its troops from Gaza and an agreement would be reached on an end to the war.
The Hamas offer, which was first reported by Reuters, was a response to an earlier proposal drawn up by US and Israeli spy chiefs and delivered to Hamas last week by Qatari and Egyptian mediators.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, following a meeting with Netanyahu, suggested forging a truce agreement was not a lost cause.
Blinken, who has been holding meetings with leaders of Qatar, Egypt and Palestine, said he saw room for negotiation, and a Hamas delegation led by senior official Khalil Al-Hayya was due to travel on Thursday to Cairo for ceasefire talks with Egypt and Qatar.
"There are clearly nonstarters in what (Hamas has) put forward," Blinken said on Wednesday at a late-night press conference in a Tel Aviv hotel, without specifying what the nonstarters were.
"But we also see space in what came back to pursue negotiations, to see if we can get to an agreement. That's what we intend to do."
Before heading back to the US, Blinken was due to hold meetings in Israel on Thursday, including with family members of hostages still held in Gaza who have clamoured for Netanyahu to make winning their freedom his top priority.
Israel began its military offensive after Hamas militants from Gaza killed 1,200 people and took 253 hostages in southern Israel on Oct. 7. Gaza's health ministry says at least 27,585 Palestinians have been confirmed killed, with thousands more feared buried under rubble. There has been one truce to date, lasting a week at the end of November.
ISRAEL EXPANDS ASSAULT ON RAFAH
Israel has recently focused on capturing Khan Younis, the main city in Gaza's south. But last week Israel said it would expand its campaign into Rafah, where about half the enclave's 2.3 million people are penned against the border with Egypt.
Many have relocated several times to escape Israeli attacks, and they face dire shortages of food and risk of disease.
On the ground in southern Gaza, residents said Israel stepped up its assault on Rafah in the early hours of Thursday. Israel claims Rafah is now a bastion of Hamas combat units.
Two Israeli strikes hit two houses in the area of Tel Al-Sultan in the city, residents said. Hamas media said seven people were killed and 11 injured.
Footage on Palestinian media showed frantic efforts to rush the injured to hospital. Reuters could not independently verify the details.