US Secretary of State John Kerry says some progress has been made on a potential cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. The UN has meanwhile approved a probe into Israel's Gaza offensive.
Speaking after talks with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Jerusalem, Kerry said Wednesday that "some steps forward" had been made, but there was "still work to be done."
Ban also expressed confidence that a truce was imminent, saying: "We are now joining our forces in strength to make a cease-fire as soon as possible."
Ban however warned that time was short, with civilian casualties rising from 16 days of bloodshed amid an Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip.
Kerry again spoke of progress in establishing a cease-fire after talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, before heading to Tel Aviv for a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Amid the international diplomatic efforts, the Islamist Hamas movement that dominates the Gaza Strip said it rejected any truce without the lifting of Israel's eight-year blockade on Gaza.
"We will not accept any initiative that does not lift the blockade on our people and that does not respect their sacrifices," Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said, speaking to reporters from exile in Doha, Qatar.
He did, however, say Hamas would welcome a temporary lull to allow humanitarian relief into Gaza.
"We need the calm for a few hours to evacuate the wounded and assist in the relief... This means a real truce backed by a real relief programme offered to the people of Gaza," he said.
The death toll in the Gaza Strip has meanwhile risen to more than 680 after continued fighting on Wednesday. The Israeli army says three more of its soldiers were killled in combat inside Gaza on Wednesday, bringing to 32 the total number of Israeli soldiers killed since the start of a ground offensive on July 17.
Two Israeli civilians have been killed in 15 days of fighting, and police say a Thai farm worker was killed on Wednesday when a rocket fired from Gaza hit the greenhouse where he was working in southern Israel.
Israel says it launched its current operation against Gaza to halt rocket fire from the Palestinian territory into Israel, and to destroy the network of cross-border tunnels used by militants to stage cross-border attacks. More than 2,100 rockets have been fired by Palestinian militants since the conflict erupted.
UN human rights probe
As the bloodshed continued on Wednesday, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted to launch a probe into Israel's offensive. UN rights chief Navi Pillay condemned both Hamas and Israel during an emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
She said Israeli attacks that had killed civilians, among them children, "could amount to war crimes." However, she also denounced Hamas for what she called "indiscriminate attacks" on Israeli citizens.
The Israeli prime minister's office responded to news of the UN body's probe with a statement that said the council's move was "a travesty and should be rejected by decent people everywhere."
The 47-member Council's decision to carry out the probe was carried by 29-1 votes, with the US the only country against it. Germany was among the 17 nations that abstained.
tj/ipj (AP, AFP, dpa)