Hamas said it was studying the latest proposal
Hamas said it was studying the latest proposal. AFP

Cautious hopes were building Tuesday for a Gaza truce and hostage release deal as Hamas said it was studying the latest proposal and US top diplomat Antony Blinken was due to head back to Israel.

The Palestinian militant group whose October 7 attack started the Gaza war said it was considering a plan for a 40-day ceasefire and the release of scores of hostages for larger numbers of Palestinian prisoners.

The Islamist group, whose envoys returned from Cairo talks to their base in Qatar, would "discuss the ideas and the proposal," said a Hamas source, adding that "we are keen to respond as quickly as possible".

Sources in Egypt -- a key mediator alongside the United States and Qatar -- told Al-Qahera News, a site linked to Egyptian intelligence services, that Hamas envoys were due to "return with a written response".

Washington, Israel's top ally, has heightened pressure on all sides to reach a ceasefire -- a message pushed by Blinken, who was on his seventh Middle East crisis tour since the war broke out.

Blinken, who arrived in Jordan from Saudi Arabia and was later heading to Israel for talks with its leaders on Wednesday, described Israel's offer as "extraordinarily generous" and urged Hamas to "decide quickly".

Washington has strongly backed its ally but also pressured it to refrain from a ground invasion of Gaza's far-southern city of Rafah, which is packed with displaced civilians, and to do more to protect the territory's 2.4 million people.

President Joe Biden -- facing strong criticism abroad and rising fury on US university campuses -- urged the Egyptian and Qatari leaders Monday "to exert all efforts to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas".

Biden called this "the only obstacle" to securing relief for civilians who have been trapped for almost seven months in the bloodiest Gaza war.

Anger about the unprecedented Palestinian suffering has sparked weeks of large-scale protests at universities across the United States and elsewhere, including in France.

New York's Columbia University, the epicentre of the protest movement, began suspending student demonstrators on Monday after they defied an ultimatum to disperse.

An AFP correspondent reported several air strikes in Gaza City, Khan Yunis and Rafah as well as overnight artillery shelling.

Gaza's civil defence agency said it had recovered six bodies from a building in Gaza City and was searching for more.

The Israeli military said "fighter jets struck a number of terror targets in central Gaza, including a weapons storage facility".

"Two terrorists were identified advancing toward the troops in the area, and an IDF aircraft quickly struck and eliminated the terrorists," it said.

Palestinians in Rafah mourned the latest victims as children were being pulled out from the rubble of a building.

"Civilian individuals with no ties to Hamas or any other group were struck by a rocket, torn apart," said Umm Louay Masri.

At Rafah's Al-Najjar hospital, grief-stricken relatives jostled over the dead, whose bodies were shrouded in white.

"We demand the entire world call for a lasting truce," said one bereaved relative, Abu Taha.

The war started after Hamas's October 7 attack on southern Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Hamas also took some 250 hostages. Israel estimates 129 remain in Gaza, including 34 believed to be dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 34,535 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

As the Gaza war has roiled the region and its human toll has sparked international outrage, political momentum has built in the search for a post-war solution to the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

European and Arab foreign ministers met in the Saudi capital on Monday to discuss how to join forces on advancing a two-state solution.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a long-standing opponent of Palestinian statehood however, as are many members of his government, considered the most right-wing in Israeli history.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he expected several European governments to announce their recognition of a Palestinian state within the next month, including Belgium, Ireland, Malta, Slovenia and Spain.

To provide Israel with an incentive to support a Palestinian state, Washington has pushed the prospect of normalised relations with Gulf kingpin Saudi Arabia, with Blinken suggesting that some progress was being made in that arena.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan said that tangible and irreversible steps towards establishing a Palestinian state would be an essential component of any lasting ceasefire.

China meanwhile said that rival Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah had met in Beijing recently for "in-depth and candid talks on promoting intra-Palestinian reconciliation".

Hamas seized sole control of Gaza in 2007 after fighting with Fatah, which maintains partial administrative control in the Israeli-occupied West Bank through the Palestinian Authority.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lin Jian said "the two sides fully expressed their political will to achieve reconciliation through dialogue and consultation" without specifying when they had met.