Report: Dozen of hostages' families receive signs of life

‘19 women held hostage by Hamas’: Families set to rally for International Women’s Day

Relatives of each of the female captives held by terrorists in Gaza speaking at Saturday’s Tel Aviv demonstration; separately, anti-government protesters to urge elections

Women rally for the hostages held by Hamas since October 7, 2023 in Tel Aviv on February 1, 2024. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
Women rally for the hostages held by Hamas since October 7, 2023 in Tel Aviv on February 1, 2024. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The families of hostages were set to rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening to specifically draw attention to the plight of the 19 women held by terrorists in the Gaza Strip, as anti-government protesters were readying to also demonstrate nationwide.

The rally by the hostages’ families came a day after International Women’s Day. Additionally, on Monday, the UN’s representative on sexual violence in conflict, Pramila Patten, released a report saying that hostages were likely subject to sexual violence, which she believed was ongoing.

The protest is to be held under the banner: “19 women held hostage by Hamas — International Women’s Day 2024.”

The event will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Tel Aviv’s Hostages’ Square, and family members representing each of the 19 female hostages will give a speech.

The rally was to come a day after Channel 12 reported, without citing any sources, that several dozen families of hostages in Gaza received signs of life regarding their loved ones this week.

The network said it could not provide any additional details on the matter. However, Israel has been demanding a list of live hostages as part of the ongoing hostage deal talks.

Protesters supporting women’s rights wear red as they form a human chain to mark International Women’s Day and call for the immediate release of the Israeli women still held captive by Hamas in Gaza, in Tel Aviv on March 8, 2024. (Jack Guez/AFP)

According to Channel 12, the signs of life sparked a debate among the hostage families, with some wanting to radically step up protests amid a feeling that time is increasingly running out. However, others were urging a more measured approach to give negotiations on a deal a chance to work.

Families of hostages being held captive by Hamas in Gaza staged a protest on Friday late afternoon and evening, blocking the main highway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to urge the government to reach a deal to free their loved ones.

The protesters set tires on fire, and hostages’ relatives sat in five cramped cages spread across the highway bearing signs that read “SOS,” “Save us” and “Help.”

Families of hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza and activists block Route 1 between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, during a protest on March 8, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7, murdering some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping 253.

Attempts have been ongoing to reach a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas in negotiations in Qatar and Cairo in recent weeks. Talks on Thursday ended without any progress made, as both sides continue to blame each other for sabotaging the negotiations. Further meetings are set to begin next week.

Hamas has said Israel must agree to a permanent ceasefire before hostages are freed, Israeli forces must leave the Strip and all Gazans must be able to return to homes they have fled. Israel has publicly ruled out a permanent ceasefire, and says it will resume its campaign to destroy Hamas after any temporary truce.

A man puts out photographs of the Israelis still held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, at ‘Hostage Square’ in Tel Aviv, March 4, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The apparent outline of a six-week truce deal, thus far rejected by Hamas, would see 40 children, women, elderly and sick hostages released in a first phase, in exchange for some 400 Palestinian security prisoners, with the possibility of further releases to be negotiated.

It is believed that 130 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza, after 105 civilians were released during a weeklong truce in late November. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of at least 31 of the captives.

Four hostages were released prior to that, three have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 11 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military. One more person, Bilha Yinon, has been listed as missing since October 7, and her 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 Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Election calls after violence

Meanwhile, at around the same time on Saturday evening as the supporters of the hostage families will hold their rally, anti-government protesters were set to gather across the country, including at Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street, the focus of last year’s mass protests against the government’s contentious judicial overhaul.

Rallies will also be held in cities and towns nationwide, and protesters will also gather on bridges across the country on Saturday afternoon.

Speakers at the main rally in Tel Aviv will include: Dr. Yahel Kurlander, a sociology lecturer displaced from her home in the north by attacks from the Hezbollah terror group launched from south Lebanon; major general (res.) Amos Malka, a former head of the Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence Directorate; reservist Gal Alkalai; and Or Szneiberg, an activist who was seriously injured while fighting in Gaza.

Anti-government protesters in Tel Aviv, on March 2, 2024. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Demonstrations against the coalition’s contentious judicial overhaul ceased with the outbreak of war, but protests have ramped up in recent weeks as anti-government activists have increasingly demanded new elections over the failures that enabled the devastating Hamas attack.

Calls for an election have grown also amid dissatisfaction with 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. Netanyahu claimed last month that Israel’s enemies want to see elections mid-war because the process would be so divisive, and intimated that any politicians seeking to oust his government from without or within were therefore siding with the enemy.

Netanyahu has faced criticism for his refusal to take responsibility for  October 7, while virtually all other military and civilian leaders who had a hand in events have done so. Many top officials are also expected to resign once the war concludes, while Netanyahu has signaled he has no such intention.

The prime minister has also pushed back against investigating the failures that enabled the Hamas onslaught so long as the war continues.

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