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JERUSALEM (AP) — Thousands of family members and supporters of some 240 hostages held in Gaza streamed into Jerusalem on Saturday, castigating Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his handling of the war with Hamas and pleading with the government to do more to bring their loved ones home.
The march capped a five-day trek from Tel Aviv and represented the largest protest on behalf of the hostages since they were dragged into Gaza by Hamas on Oct. 7 as part of the militants’ deadly attack in southern Israel. About 1,200 people were killed in Israel on the day of the surprise Hamas assault.
Israel declared war in response, and more than 11,500 Palestinians have been killed in the past six weeks as the Israeli military conducts a punishing air and ground offensive in Gaza, where Hamas militants have ruled for the past 16 years.
Israeli leaders have set two objectives — to crush Hamas and to bring the hostages home.
Some of the hostage families have said they fear that the military offensive endangers their loved ones. Israeli leaders, in turn, have argued that only military pressure on Hamas will lead to some hostage releases in a possible deal involving a temporary cease-fire.
On Saturday, the marchers carried Israeli flags and photos of the hostages as they finished the 70-kilometer (45-mile) walk to Jerusalem and slowly converged on Netanyahu’s office.
Netanyahu has not yet agreed to meet with them, provoking fury among the demonstrators. Other members of Israel’s War Cabinet — former opposition leader Benny Gantz and former army chief Gadi Eisenkot — were set to sit down Saturday evening with representatives of the hostage families.
“We are here today with many families walking up to Jerusalem to keep the awareness of the hostage issue as a top priority for the government of Israel,” said Ruby Chen, whose 19-year old son is a hostage.
For the families, the procession marked the culmination of six weeks of worrying and wondering about the safety and whereabouts of their relatives, who include children and older adults.
It also signaled the growing political power of the group, as thousands of supporters marched alongside the families. Some criticized the War Cabinet for what they described as a lack of transparency about any rescue plans.
“We are gathered here from all across the nation to support the families of the kidnapped and to send a direct message to the government,” marcher Hvihy Hanina said. “These hostages must be set free. They belong with us. They belong with their families.”
The protest came amid widespread Israeli media speculation that the War Cabinet is considering a Qatari-brokered deal to win the release of the women and children among the hostages. In exchange, Israel would agree to a cease-fire of several days and release several dozen of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners it is holding.
Of the more than 240 hostages kidnapped to Gaza, five have been released — four of them through international diplomacy involving Qatar, and one who was rescued by Israeli troops. Their freedom raised the hopes of other families.
But Israel this week confirmed the deaths of two hostages, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad have published several videos of hostages who looked unwell, provoking fear and concern among many.
Full AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war.
We update regularly World Latest Breaking News here. We update 2023-11-18 22:31:08 this news story from official website – https://apnews.com/article/israel-hamas-hostages-families-protest-war-netanyahu-9846d568b3021582b5c588e28850cbea.”
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