Hostage families block main highway with cages; report says new signs of life received

Protesters burn tires on main Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, call on prime minister to reach a deal with Hamas soon or give up his position to someone who will

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)
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)

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 protest came as 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.

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.

On Friday evening, 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.”

The cages were a reference to the IDF finding cages in Gaza tunnels in January which forces said they believed were used to keep hostages captive.

Israel Police released a statement on Friday evening saying they were redirecting traffic on the road because of the protest. A short time later, they said that they had cleared the demonstrators and traffic was moving smoothly again.

“Mr. Prime Minister, you are the leader, and it is your responsibility to bring them home,” the families said in a statement about the protest. “Agree to a deal, ignore [hardline National Security Minister Itamar] Ben Gvir and [Finance Minister Bezalel] Smotrich, and bring home the people you neglected and who have been in hell for 154 days.”

They added that they would not consider it a victory if Israel won the war against Hamas but failed to bring back the hostages.

Sitting in cages and burning tires, families and supporters of Israelis held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza block Route 1 between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, during a protest for their release on March 8, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“If you cannot achieve a deal now, step aside for someone who can,” they said.

Some of the protesters also carried a large sign reading: “The survival of the government [cannot be] at the cost of hostages’ lives.”

Hostage Ofer Kalderon’s cousin, Yifat Kalderon, told Channel 12 News that the protest was urgent because “the chances that they will come back alive are falling.”

“We need to rouse the cabinet and [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and they need to understand that we need a deal now,” she said. “They’ll kill the hostages, and we cannot launch another 134 rescue missions.”

As the world marked International Women’s Day, some of the protesters also emphasized that there are still 19 women being held captive in Gaza. 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.

“There are still 19 women in Gaza,” said one of the demonstrators. “How is Israel living peacefully with this? How is this happening?”

Families of hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza and activists block Route 1 between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, 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.

It is believed that 130 hostages remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November. Four hostages were released prior to that, and three were rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military. One more person has been listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Hamas is also holding captive the bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who were killed during Protective Edge in 2014, as well as two Israeli citizens, Avera Mengistu and Hisham Al-Sayed, both of whom suffer from mental illness and accidentally wandered into Gaza in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

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.

Family members of the hostages block Route 1 on March 8, 2024. (Or Adar/protest movement)

Hamas has said Israel must agree to a permanent ceasefire before hostages are freed, Israeli forces must leave Gaza 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 truce.

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.

Most Popular
read more: