ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 141

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‘120 days underground with no air’: Gaza hostages’ families rallying Saturday evening

Main protest in Tel Aviv being held with warning that hostages are ‘in mortal danger’; other events scheduled nationwide; some protesters to call for elections

Demonstrators block a main road demanding an immediate deal for the release Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip by Palestinian terrorists, during a protest near the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on February 1, 2024. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
File: Demonstrators block a main road demanding an immediate deal for the release Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip by Palestinian terrorists, during a protest near the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on February 1, 2024. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Nationwide protests were set to get under way Saturday evening to urge the government to work for the immediate release of hostages held by the Hamas terror group in Gaza for the past 120 days, with some events also calling for fresh elections.

The rallies come amid advanced negotiations for a potential new deal that would see the release of hostages in exchange for a pause in fighting, increased humanitarian aid for Gaza, and the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

Both Israel and Hamas are said to be studying the deal, with divisions reported among leaders of both sides over the details of the proposed agreement.

The families of the hostages called on the public to join them at the main weekly rally, to start at Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square at 7:30 p.m. under the banner “120 days underground with no air: The hostages are in mortal danger!”

Most, if not all, of the hostages kidnapped during the onslaught on October 7 are believed to be held captive in Hamas’s labyrinth of tunnels beneath Gaza.

Speakers at the event will include ⁠Lishay Miran-Lavie, whose husband Omri Miran was kidnapped from Kibbutz Nahal Oz; Hadasa Lazar, whose brother Shlomo Mansour was kidnapped from Kibbutz Kissufim; and ⁠Carmit Palty Katzi, whose brother Elad Katzir was kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz.

Former spokespeople from the Israel Defense Forces will also speak at the rally.

An hour earlier, anti-government protesters were preparing to gather at Tel Aviv’s Habima Square with a call for elections.

Additional protests for a hostage deal and for elections to replace the current government were planned in Jerusalem, Haifa, Beersheba, Eilat, Caesarea, and other cities and towns throughout the country.

Calls for an election have grown amid deep dissatisfaction over the government’s handling of the war, with repeated polls showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu losing his majority in the Knesset if a vote was to be held today.

War erupted following Hamas’s October 7 shock onslaught in which thousands of Hamas-led terrorists killed 1,200 people across southern Israel, mostly civilians, and took 253 hostages of all ages.

According to some reports, a current outline for a hostage deal offers the possibility of a six-week pause in fighting in Gaza for the first time since late November, and the release of all 136 hostages still in Gaza, not all of whom are alive.

Other reports, however, have said the framework provides for the release of only 35 hostages — women, the elderly, and the sick — during a 35-day initial truce, with the potential for another week’s pause in fighting during which negotiations could be held on further releases. Still other reports have cited differing terms in the unconfirmed framework deal.

A senior Egyptian official familiar with the discussions on Friday described the proposal to The Associated Press, saying it includes an initial truce of six to eight weeks during which Hamas would release elderly hostages, women, and children in return for hundreds of Palestinians jailed by Israel.

Throughout that phase, negotiations would continue on prolonging the truce and releasing more prisoners and hostages. Israel would allow the number of aid trucks entering Gaza to increase to up to 300 daily — from a few dozen currently — and let displaced Gaza residents gradually return to their homes in the north, according to the proposal.

File: Members of the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad terror groups release Israeli hostages to the Red Cross, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, November 28, 2023. (Flash90)

Hamas and other terror factions are holding onto 132 of the 253 hostages taken on October 7, following a weeklong November truce deal that saw the release of 105 civilians, mostly women and children.

The IDF has said 29 of the 132 are dead, citing intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. One more person has been listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown. Hamas has also been holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Gaza Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

A senior Israeli official told NBC News Friday that it was unclear that a new deal would come to fruition.

Unnamed ministers also told Channel 12 news that a deal was far from certain.

Israel’s war cabinet met earlier this week to discuss the proposal and met again Thursday evening for more talks.

Hebrew media reported Friday that ministers voiced opposition to several elements of the proposed deal, including its phased nature.

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported that the terrorist organization’s chief in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, backs a temporary truce while its leaders outside of the Strip are pushing for further Israeli concessions and a permanent ceasefire.

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