After rescue op, freed hostage urges Israelis to attend Tel Aviv rally calling for deal

Andrey Kozlov: ‘I’m home from Gaza; lots of hostages still there’; many protests to urge truce-hostage deal, others want early elections, amid anger at Haredi draft exemption vote

Illustrative: Protesters at a rally calling for the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, at Hostage Square in Tel Aviv, June 8, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Illustrative: Protesters at a rally calling for the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, at Hostage Square in Tel Aviv, June 8, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Thousands of Israelis were expected to attend a weekly rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening to demand the government approve a deal to end the war and release remaining captives, as a newly freed hostage called on the public to join, saying the gatherings gave them hope.

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum was holding the rally at Hostages Square outside the Tel Aviv Art Museum.

In tandem, anti-government groups were preparing to clamor for new elections on nearby Kaplan Street.

Andrey Kozlov, one of four hostages whom the army rescued on June 8 from central Gaza’s Nuseirat refugee camp, called on Israelis to attend the hostages’ rally.

In an English-language video released by the Families Forum on Friday, Kozlov said: “I saw a lot of rallies on Saturday and it gave me a lot of hope.”

“I am already in Israel, at home, but lots of hostages are still there in Gaza,” Kozlov said. “I ask you to come and support families and hostages in Kikar Hahatufim this Saturday,” said Kozlov, using Hostages Square’s Hebrew name.

The Families Forum said on social media that the rally’s theme will be Father’s Day, which will be marked on Sunday.

The group has been advocating for Israel to approve a deal, first presented by United States President Joe Biden on May 31, to end the war and release the hostages. The Forum has taken to referring to the proposal — which Biden said was Israeli — as the “Netanyahu deal” to shore up support for it among the premier’s acolytes.

While Israel has not publicly affirmed to the deal, the US has repeatedly said that Israel remains committed to the proposal. Both Biden and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken have accused the Palestinian terror group of holding up its progress.

Andrey Kozlov (C), freed from Gaza in an Israeli military operation a day earlier, meets with his parents at Sheba Medical Center, June 9, 2024. (Hostage and Missing Families Forum)

The anti-government groups, many of which spearheaded 2023 demonstrations against the government’s judicial overhaul bill, have been galvanized by the government’s moves that would largely enshrine ultra-Orthodox draft exemptions.

Brothers in Arms, a reservist protest group opposed to the draft exemption and the judicial overhaul, said on social media that its regular Saturday Kaplan Street rally would be complemented by a Monday march in Jerusalem, from the President’s residence, through the Prime Minister’s residence, to the Knesset, to protest the “government of destruction and draft-dodging.”

The Knesset on Tuesday took a preliminary decision to apply “continuity” to a bill that would “very slowly” increase ultra-Orthodox enlistment to the army.

Ultra-Orthodox men of military age have been able to avoid being conscripted to the Israel Defense Forces for decades by enrolling in yeshivas for Torah study and obtaining repeated one-year service deferrals until they reach the age of military exemption.

Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox demonstrators outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, June 2, 2024, during a hearing on Haredi enlistment in the IDF. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition partners have threatened to bolt the government if their constituents’ exemption were not renewed amid growing Supreme Court criticism of it.

“Continuity” allows the current government to continue the bill’s legislative process without starting from scratch. Although first proposed by the previous government, the law’s early proponents — all of whom, with the resignation of Benny Gantz on Sunday, are now in opposition — have demanded significant changes to the bill due to the army’s urgent manpower needs amid the war with Hamas in Gaza.

The Saturday anti-government demonstration will be preceded by a weekly gathering of the left-wing “Bloc Against the Occupation” outside Kirya military headquarters’ Kaplan Street entrance.

Sam Sokol contributed to this report.

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