Israel has rejected the prospect of mediation between the country and Hamas as “it is a time of war", an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman told The National as its latest conflict with the armed Palestinian group entered a third day.
Lior Haiat said on Monday that "we're not talking about mediation. There are still terrorists in Israeli territory".
“This is the time to defend ourselves and to retaliate strongly so we can destroy the Hamas terrorist group and its capabilities and infrastructure in the Gaza Strip," he said.
Qatar, an ally of Hamas, has been in talks since Sunday evening to try to secure an agreement that would lead to the release of Israeli women and children held by the militant group in Gaza since Saturday.
Under the potential deal, 36 Palestinian women and children would be released from Israeli prisons in exchange, sources from Hamas and Qatar told The National on Monday.
Egypt, which has acted as mediator between Israel and Hamas in past conflicts, was also in close contact with both sides as it sought to prevent further escalation, Egyptian security sources said.
The sources told The National that over the past 24 hours, Cairo has held talks with senior EU and US officials, as well as regional powers including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatar.
Hamas representative Osama Hamdan told The National that talks had begun, but said it was too early for a deal.
“I think we are not talking about one country leading the efforts on mediation between Hamas and Israel, but I can say that talks have indeed begun since yesterday,” said Mr Hamdan, the group's senior official in Lebanon and a member of its political office.
Hamas's military wing, Al Qassam Brigades, on Saturday launched “Operation Al Aqsa Flood”, which included rocket fire on Israel.
The group's fighters also entered southern Israel and took dozens of hostages.
Mr Haiat said Israeli forces were continuing to fight against at least 70 Hamas militants inside its territory, close to the border with Gaza.
The death toll from the Hamas attack climbed to 800 as of Monday evening, Israel's Kan TV reported.
Israel has launched retaliatory strikes, which have killed more than 500 people in Gaza since Saturday.
Arab League foreign ministers are to meet on Wednesday to discuss "Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip", the bloc announced.
The extraordinary meeting in Cairo will seek to find "avenues of political action at the Arab and international level", as Israel continues to attack targets in Gaza following Saturday's attack, Arab League deputy chief Hossam Zaki said in a statement.
Militants from Al Qassam Brigades and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group have claimed to be holding 100 hostages from Israel.
Hamas said Israeli air strikes killed four hostages on Monday.
Israel has said children and a Holocaust survivor who uses a wheelchair were among those taken hostage by Hamas.
“Hamas is responsible for the lives and the well-being of each and every hostage they hold. If any of those hostages will be harmed, there will be a heavy price Hamas will have to pay,” Mr Haiat said.
Both sides on Monday appeared adamant they would press on with their assaults, casting doubt the possibility of an early breakthrough in mediation efforts.
“We have had experience with the occupiers’ wars on Gaza in 2008 and 2014, so for the armed wing of Hamas, Al Qassam Brigades, to be so victorious over the past days gives many in Gaza the will to go on fighting until the end,” Mr Hamdan said.