Families of Israeli hostages join protests calling for Netanyahu to step down

TEL AVIV — Tens of thousands of demonstrators poured into the streets of Israel for a second night Sunday night, calling for immediate elections and for the government to urgently negotiate the release of the more than 100 hostages still held by Hamas in Gaza.

The two demands represent a fusion of two distinct protest movements – one including the hostages’ families, the other led by civil society and the political opposition – that could become a growing challenge for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his extreme The biggest threat to right-wing governments.

Protesters moved from Tel Aviv’s “Hostage Square” square to Jerusalem’s parliament on Sunday, waving Israeli flags and chanting slogans calling for the overthrow of the country’s longest-serving leader. Netanyahu addressed his critics in a prime-time speech inside the building.

“The pain of the families of the hostages breaks my heart, and I think it breaks our hearts,” he said. “Anyone who says I didn’t do everything I could to bring back the hostages is wrong and misleading.”

“Now, in the thick of the war, moments before victory, the call for elections will paralyze Israel for at least half a year,” he added. “The first to celebrate this will be Hamas.”

Elad Katzir, Carmi Paltzi Katzir’s brother, is dragged from Israel into Gaza outside the Knesset. Neil Oz Kibbutz exist October 7denouncing what she called “the failure of government.”

“I never believed that, six months later, I would have to fight the government for the right of my brother to return alive or to return at all,” she said.

She cited testimonies from freed hostages that suggested her brother was, at least initially, able to listen to the radio and watch television in captivity: “What did he say about us as a society, about our prime minister?” she wondered.

Sunday’s event was the start of four days of rallies that organizers hope will either force the government to initiate hostage negotiations or lead to the collapse of Netanyahu’s coalition. right wing in the history of the country.

Netanyahu already faces growing pressure from Washington, which matters most to Israel weapons supplier and diplomatic backers.U.S. officials have said growing alarm On the war in Gaza, including Israel’s planned offensive against the southern city RafaIt is home to 1.4 million displaced Palestinians, humanitarian crisis In the north, Israel imposes restrictions on aid deliveries a few millions People on the verge of starvation.

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Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) warn This month, Israel risks becoming an international pariah under Netanyahu, who has urged the country to hold new elections.Netanyahu largely immune to external pressure israeli public The vast majority support the war and – at least so far – have no interest in wartime elections.

But the tide may be turning.

In Tel Aviv on Saturday, Einav Zangauker, whose 24-year-old son Matan is being held in Gaza, accused the prime minister of “breaking” a temporary ceasefire agreement that would have allowed Israeli hostages to be exchanged with Palestinian prisoners exchange. .

“You stand on our path to bringing our loved ones home,” she told Netanyahu.

Massive street demonstrations in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and several other cities on Saturday were led by the Hostage Families Forum, an umbrella group for relatives of the hostages.

Since the beginning of the war, family The government told them that only military pressure could bring their loved ones home. Instead of making political statements, they shared testimonies from former captives and expressed condolences as notifications of their deaths trickled in.

Nearly six months after October 7, many families have yet to receive official information about their relatives imprisoned in Gaza. Some requested a meeting with Netanyahu, but the war cabinet refused. Many say their trust in government has disappeared.

“The relationship between the hostage families and Netanyahu is on the verge of breaking down,” one leader The group has been calling for the release of the hostages and the formation of a new Israeli government since October 7.

He said the decision by some families to join the anti-government movement was “not political in nature.” “They were just trying their best to get their loved ones back home, but they now recognize that Netanyahu is an obstacle to that goal.”

Tel Aviv’s main highway was blocked on Saturday night as some hostage families took part in wider anti-government protests. They lit bonfires in the streets and police fired water cannons into the crowd, resulting in 16 arrests. Demonstrators blocked main roads in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on Sunday night, again clashing with police.

The scenes are reminiscent of the tumultuous months leading up to October 7, when hundreds of thousands of Israelis protest The government’s campaign to weaken the justice system.

Protesters say the risk is greater now.

Shaul Dwek, 70, who joined the crowds in Jerusalem on Sunday with his wife Netta, said: “Our country is being dominated by a group of crazy cases that endanger not only us survival and endangering our well-being.” “This is not the way we grew up and this is not the value we hold.”

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Musician Gili Amar, 29, wants more “clarification” [the decision-makers] What is being done, what is the goal. “

Israel sent a low-level delegation to Cairo on Sunday to resume indirect truce talks with Hamas. An Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that if talks progressed, the heads of Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency, and the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, would be included.

But the family witnessed round after round of negotiations fail. They worry time is running out.

“[The hostages] Raz Ben Ami, who was freed during a temporary ceasefire in late November, told a Saturday night rally in Tel Aviv: “We will not hold out there, no one can survive what they have been through. Survived.”

“On behalf of the abducted men and women, and on behalf of the Israeli people, the prime minister issued an order to Qatar’s negotiators: ‘Do not return without a deal.'”

Almost every week now comes new testimony from former hostages about the abuse they suffered at the hands of their captors, and the abuse they suffered. fear They have it for those who are still inside.

Liri Albag, 19, had been held captive in underground tunnels and private homes and forced to cook and clean for those holding her captive, according to testimony given to the Albag family by freed hostages .

“The hostages had to prepare food, but they couldn’t eat themselves,” Lily’s mother Sheila Albag told Israel’s public broadcaster last week.

Aviva Siegel, one of the first hostages to be released, testified about sexual assaults in captivity, Tell A parliamentary hearing in January said the kidnappers dressed the hostages as “dolls”, watched them bathe and sexually and physically abused both men and women.

On Saturday, she said the government needed to stop treating hostage negotiations as “child’s play.”

“Bibi, do you hear me?” she said, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “Stop talking about victory, stop talking about military pressure. Nothing works. Nothing has worked so far. They are dying there every day.”

Lovluck reported from Jerusalem.

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By Ali Raza

I am a dedicated and skilled News Content Writer with a passion for delivering accurate and engaging stories to a diverse audience. With a solid background in journalism and a keen eye for detail, I bring a commitment to excellence and a deep understanding of the evolving media landscape.

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