JERUSALEM, Nov 5 (Reuters) - Israel on Sunday (Nov 5) rejected growing calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, with military specialists saying that forces are set to intensify their operations against militant group Hamas.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded that all of the more than 240 hostages captured by Hamas during its Oct 7 attacks are returned.

"There will be no ceasefire without the return of the hostages. This should be completely removed from the lexicon," Netanyahu told crews at the Ramon air force base in southern Israel, reiterating the government's long-standing position.

"We say this to our friends and to our enemies. We will simply continue until we defeat them. We have no alternative."

Israel's military has used a combination of ground troops, together with air and navy power to pound Gaza and deepen its incursions into the narrow coastal strip, aiming to destroy Hamas infrastructure and kill senior leaders, as well as its command and control systems.

The forces have penetrated deep into Gaza, surrounding Gaza City and engaging in close urban combat with Hamas fighters, which would make breaking off contact to allow a temporary cessation of hostilities risky and uncertain, Israeli military sources said.

"They don't work with the clock in their hands and the order is to do the job professionally, step by step to try to avoid any casualties even though nothing is for free," Itamar Yaar, former deputy head of Israel's National Security Council, told Reuters.

Yaar, who is now manager of the Commanders for Israel’s Security group of former senior defence officials, said at present the military was not facing the same time pressures as in previous operations in Gaza.

"The message that commanders get from the higher commander is to do the job, we are not in a hurry."

Yaar added that if Israel meets its objectives, the current operation would be wrapped up in three to four weeks.

"It will have a lot to do with the number of casualties and unexpected events," he said.

Foreign ministers from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Amman, Jordan on Saturday and urged him to persuade Israel to agree to a ceasefire.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas demanded an immediate ceasefire earlier when he met Blinken during the top US diplomat's unannounced visit to the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Blinken, in the region for a second time in less than a month as part of US efforts to prevent the Israel-Hamas war from spreading, has rejected ceasefire calls.

He has said a ceasefire would only allow Hamas to regroup, but has been trying to convince Israel to agree to location-specific pauses that would allow much-needed aid to be distributed within Gaza.

Gaza health officials said on Sunday more than 9,770 Palestinians have been killed in the current war, which began when Hamas launched a surprise attack on southern Israel on Oct 7, killing 1,400 people and taking more than 240 hostages.

Israeli security sources said Israel could be open to a limited pause in fighting for a few hours, depending on the circumstances on the ground.

"The achievable target will be to damage it (Hamas' military capability) significantly but not to eliminate it completely," Avi Issacharoff, an Israeli military commentator, told reporters on Sunday.

"At some point, Israel will agree to a some kind of halt, but for hours not for days, not more than that. If it will be for more than a few hours, the Israeli public will crucify our government and our prime minister."

Hamas will only release the hostages if Israel frees all Palestinian prisoners, Abu Ubaida, the spokesperson for the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, said last week.

Hamas can also hold talks over a "partial" agreement over the captives, he added.

Photo from AFP