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Hostages’ families join protests calling for Netanyahu’s ouster

Israel is bracing for intensifying demonstrations this week after Saturday night saw one of the largest anti-government gatherings since Oct. 7.

Demonstrators protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip and against the current Israeli government outside Hakirya Base in Tel Aviv, March 30, 2024. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.
Demonstrators protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip and against the current Israeli government outside Hakirya Base in Tel Aviv, March 30, 2024. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators calling for early elections and the release of the hostages being held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip took to the streets of Tel Aviv and other cities across Israel on Saturday night in one of the country’s largest protests since the terror group’s Oct. 7 massacre.

For the first time since 253 people were abducted during the Hamas-led attack on the northwestern Negev, some of the families of the 134 hostages remaining in Gaza announced that they will be joining the anti-government protests.

Demonstrators protest calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip and against the current Israeli government outside Hakirya Base in Tel Aviv, March 30, 2024. Photo by Itai Ron/Flash90.

In the nearly six months since Hamas’s bloody invasion of southern Israel, regular rallies have been held at a public plaza in front of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, organized by a group representing the families of hostages. The plaza was renamed Hostage Square. These rallies were separate from demonstrations against the right-wing and religious government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that have been taking place in a diminished form since the terrorist attack.

However, Eli Elbag, father of hostage Liri Elbag, 19, said on Saturday night it would be the last time a separate protest was held at Hostage Square.

“This is the last Shabbat that we’ll be here,” said Elbag, as quoted by The Times of Israel. “We won’t meet here anymore, we will be in the streets…this is the moment where we turn off the lights.”

His daughter Liri was kidnapped from the Nahal Oz military post, where she was serving as a spotter, alongside Naama Levy, Daniela Gilboa, Karina Ariev and Agam Berger.

During the Hamas-led attack, 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed, and thousands of others were wounded.

A giant screen in Hostage Square called on the rallies to join the larger anti-government protests: “Come with us to Begin [Street] and Dizengoff Street to make our shouts heard. All of them, now!”

Sixteen people were arrested during the anti-government protest in Tel Aviv for blocking roads and violating public order, according to police, who used water cannons to disperse the demonstrators.

Police clash with demonstrators during a protest for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip and against the current Israeli government in Jerusalem, March 30, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.

Protesters also clashed with police in Jerusalem, where some 200 people broke through barriers to protest near Netanyahu’s residence. Protesters were also detained in the seaside town of Caesarea for blocking roads close to Netanyahu’s private home. The demonstrators called for the prime minister to resign in a familiar chant heard during the judicial reform protests in the months preceding the Oct. 7 attack.

Einav Zangauker, the mother of Hamas captive Matan Zangauker, in a speech on Saturday night in Jerusalem called Netanyahu an “obstacle” to a hostage deal.

On Saturday, the Israel Business Forum, which includes around 200 heads of businesses, announced that workers would be able to attend the Jerusalem rally to “participate in the democratic act.” A “tent city” was set up across from the Knesset in the capital’s Givat Ram neighborhood, where this week nightly rallies will take place against the government and in support of the hostages’ release.

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum, a group representing relatives of the captives, called for a deal as soon as possible in a tweet on Saturday.

“We need you with us. A deal is possible. No more delays, no more excuses. We want our family back. #bringthemhomenow,” the post read.

For his part, Netanyahu on Friday greenlit trips to Cairo, Egypt and Doha, Qatar for the Israeli delegation to continue indirect truce talks with Hamas brokered by Egypt, Qatar and the United States.

“Pursuant to reports on the negotiations for the release of the hostages, it should be clarified that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken with the Director of the Mossad and the Director of the [Israel Security Agency], and has approved the next round of talks—in the coming days—in Doha and Cairo, with guidelines for moving forward in the negotiations,” according to a statement release by the Prime Minister’s Office on Friday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Cabinet meeting at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, Dec. 24, 2023. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.

Truce talks will resume in Cairo on Sunday, according to reports. A Hamas official told Reuters that the terrorist group would wait to hear from mediators in Cairo before responding.

The negotiations in Doha collapsed last week after Hamas told mediators that it was sticking to its demands for a “permanent ceasefire,” hours after praising the passing of a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a temporary halt to fighting in Gaza.

Israel “did not respond to any of the basic demands of our people and our resistance [Hamas]: a comprehensive ceasefire, withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the return of the displaced and a real exchange of prisoners,” the terror group said.

The terrorist organization further claimed that “[Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and his extremist government bear full responsibility for thwarting all negotiation efforts and obstructing reaching an agreement so far.”

Jerusalem has dismissed the terror group’s demands, which also include an Israeli military withdrawal from the coastal enclave, a return of displaced Gazans and the release of hundreds of terrorists from Israeli prisons, as “delusional.”

“Israel will not submit to the delusional demands of Hamas, and will continue to act to achieve all the goals of the war: to release all the abductees, to destroy the military and governmental capabilities of Hamas and to ensure that Gaza will no longer pose a threat to Israel,” Netanyahu said.

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