Hostage families rallying Saturday for global support; protesters urging elections

French envoy, relatives of those held in Gaza to address weekly gathering in Tel Aviv, after cabinet meeting on potential deal reportedly curtailed due to approaching Sabbath

Activists block a road and light flares while holding photos depicting the faces of Israeli women who are being held hostage in the Gaza Strip, in Tel Aviv , Israel, March 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Activists block a road and light flares while holding photos depicting the faces of Israeli women who are being held hostage in the Gaza Strip, in Tel Aviv , Israel, March 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The families of hostages were set to rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening with a focus on the need for international support to draw attention to the plight of those still held by terrorists in the Gaza Strip, as anti-government protesters were readying to also demonstrate nationwide.

The event will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Tel Aviv’s Hostages’ Square, and speakers will include French Ambassador Frédéric Journès, Hadasa Lazer whose brother Shlomo Mansour will mark his 86th birthday in Gaza this week, and relatives of Gadi Haggai and Judi Weinstein, US-Israeli citizens who were murdered on October 7 and their bodies taken to Gaza.

A group of hostages’ relatives were also planning to rally at the nearby gate to the military headquarters in Tel Aviv which also houses the Defense Ministry.

Israel and Hamas have struggled to agree on a hostage deal for weeks as both sides accuse each other of sabotaging talks and making unreasonable demands. Israel has continued to maintain that it will not agree to any deal that includes a permanent end to the war with the terror group still in power.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday rejected the latest proposal put forward by the terror group, saying its demands “are still absurd,” but said that Israel would send a delegation to Qatar to continue talks on a potential truce with Hamas “once the security cabinet discusses the Israeli position.”

However, the cabinet talks on a potential hostage deal were reportedly wrapped up Friday afternoon because the Jewish Sabbath was approaching, leading Opposition Leader Yair Lapid to question: “If this isn’t pikuach nefesh, what is?” referring to the rabbinic principle that the preservation of life takes precedence over nearly everything, including the strictures governing the Sabbath.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convenes a meeting of the security cabinet in Tel Aviv on March 15, 2024 (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

The sentiment was expressed by a number of relatives of those held in Gaza

According to a proposal seen by Reuters, Hamas suggested in its latest offer that an initial release of Israelis include women, children, the elderly and ill hostages, in exchange for the release of 700-1,000 Palestinian prisoners. The release of Israeli “female recruits” is included.

Hamas proposed a permanent ceasefire and a deadline for an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza would be agreed upon after the first stage.

A senior Israeli official told the Walla news site that Hamas’s demands were still too high, but “there is something to work with.”

On Friday, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the Hamas response was “within the bounds of the deal that we’ve been working on for several months.”

People walk by photographs of those still held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, at ‘Hostages Square’ in Tel Aviv. March 14, 2024 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

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

It is believed that 130 hostages abducted on October 7 remain in Gaza, after 105 civilians were released during a weeklong truce in late November. 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.

The IDF has confirmed the deaths of at least 31 of the captives.

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 in Israel and from the US

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.

Israelis call for equal military service with a poster depicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a bloody handprint on his face, in Tel Aviv, March 14, 2024 (Erik Marmor/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 Netanyahu losing his majority in the Knesset if a vote was to be held today.

US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday called on Israel to hold new elections, saying he believed Netanyahu had “lost his way” and was an obstacle to peace in the region.

US President Joe Biden on Friday described Schumer’s comments as a “good speech.”

“He expressed serious concerns, shared not only by him but by many Americans,” Biden said, adding that his staff were notified about the speech in advance by Schumer’s office.

US President Joe Biden, left, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, to discuss the the war between Israel and Hamas, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on October 18, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Pool Photo via AP)

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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