Israeli government meets to decide on deal for Hamas to free some hostages

(This Nov. 21 story has been corrected to say people instead of civilians in paragraph 7)

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday asked his government to accept a deal for Palestinian Hamas militants to free some hostages in Gaza in exchange for a multi-day truce even as the death of a hostage in captivity was announced.

Officials from Qatar, which has been mediating negotiations, as well as the U.S., Israel and Hamas have for days been saying a deal was imminent.

Before gathering with his full government, Netanyahu met on Tuesday with his war cabinet and wider national security cabinet over the deal. Hamas is believed to be holding more than 200 hostages, taken when its fighters surged into Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people, according to Israeli tallies.

The Israeli prime minister said the intervention of U.S. President Joe Biden had helped to improve the deal so that it included more hostages for fewer concessions.

But Netanyahu said Israel's broader mission had not changed.

"We are at war and we will continue the war until we achieve all our goals. To destroy Hamas, return all our hostages and ensure that nobody in Gaza can threaten Israel," he said in a recorded message at the start of the latest government meeting.

If agreed, the accord would see the first truce of a war in which Israeli bombardments have flattened swathes of Hamas-ruled Gaza, killed 13,300 people in the tiny densely populated enclave and left about two-thirds of its 2.3 million population homeless, according to authorities in Gaza.

A U.S. official briefed on the discussions said the deal would include 50 hostages taken from Israel, mostly women and children, in exchange for 150 Palestinian prisoners and a pause in the fighting of four or five days.

The pause would facilitate delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Qatar Foreign Ministry spokesperson Majed Al-Ansari said the proposal on a hostage release deal was delivered to Israel in the early hours of Tuesday.

"The State of Qatar is awaiting the result of the Israeli government's vote on the proposal," he said.

Hamas has to date released only four captives: U.S. citizens Judith Raanan, 59, and her daughter, Natalie Raanan, 17, on Oct. 20, citing "humanitarian reasons," and Israeli women Nurit Cooper, 79, and Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, on Oct. 23.

The armed wing of the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad, which participated in the Oct. 7 raid with Hamas, announced late on Tuesday the death of one of the Israeli hostages it has held since the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel.

"We previously expressed our willingness to release her for humanitarian reasons, but the enemy was stalling and this led to her death," Al Quds Brigades said on its Telegram channel.

As attention focused on the hostage release deal, fighting on the ground raged on with Israel saying its forces had encircled the Jabalia refugee camp, a major urban flashpoint and Hamas militant stronghold.

The Palestinian news agency WAFA said 33 people were killed and dozens wounded in an Israeli air strike on part of Jabalia, a congested urban extension of Gaza City where Hamas has been battling advancing Israeli armoured forces.

In southern Gaza, Hamas-affiliated media said 10 people were killed and 22 injured by an Israeli air strike on an apartment in the city of Khan Younis.

Reuters could not immediately verify the accounts of fighting on either side.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Emily Rose in Jerusalem, Andrew Mills in Doha, Steve Holland and Jonathan Landay in Washington, and Reuters bureaux; writing by Idrees Ali, Raju Gopalakrishnan, Peter Graff, Mark Heinrich and Cynthia Osterman; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Alex Richardson, Nick Macfie and Deepa Babington)