‘It’s time to approve the deal’: Families of hostages set to rally Saturday evening

Amid renewed talks, relatives of those held by terrorists in Gaza say there’s widespread consensus on need for an agreement; anti-government protests to be held in Tel Aviv, nationwide

Relatives of Israeli hostages held in Gaza since October 7 protest outside the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv on April 25, 2024. (Jack Guez/AFP)
Relatives of Israeli hostages held in Gaza since October 7 protest outside the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv on April 25, 2024. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The families of hostages held in Gaza were set to rally Saturday night in Tel Aviv to demand a deal, a day after talks were held between Israeli and Egyptian officials over Israel’s impending offensive in Rafah and a potential hostage agreement.

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum, organizers of the rally, said in a statement that an agreement to secure the release of those held captive in Gaza was “a top national priority.”

“Now is the time to demonstrate through action that securing the hostages’ release is a top national priority,” the forum said. “There is widespread consensus across all segments of the Israeli society to approve a deal for the return of all the hostages.”

Organizers said the rally would get underway at Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square at 8 p.m.

Speakers were to include Einav Zangauker, the mother of the hostage Matan Zangauker; Eli Shtivi, the father of the hostage Idan Shtivi; Meirav Leshem Gonen, the mother of the hostage Romi Gonen; and Dani Miran, the father of the hostage Omri Miran.

Talks between Israeli officials and a top-level Egyptian delegation ended on Friday, with Israel reportedly warning that this was the “last chance” for a truce agreement before Israel launched its long-planned assault on Rafah.

Demonstrators protest for the release of hostages held in Gaza, outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence, following the release of a video by Hamas of Israeli-American hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin, April 24, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

A senior Israeli official told Ynet that the Egyptians seem willing to pressure Hamas toward reaching a deal, and that “in the background, there are very serious intentions from Israel to move ahead in Rafah.”

The Israeli official said Israel warned it would not agree to foot-dragging by Hamas, particularly its leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar, on the hostage deal in a bid to forestall the Israel Defense Forces operation.

The official confirmed that Israel is prepared to settle for the release of fewer than the 40 living hostages as earlier proposed, but also that it will not agree to only 20 hostages being freed, as Hamas reportedly suggested in recent indirect contacts.

Rather, said the report, Israel believes that Hamas holds 33 living hostages who meet the so-called “humanitarian” designation — that is, women, children, men aged over 50 and the sick — and is insisting that they all be freed.

The Channel 12 report said this could be a major sticking point if the mediation efforts make headway with Hamas, but stressed that, for now, that is not the case.

Israelis march during a protest by the relatives of hostages held in Gaza by Palestinian terrorists, outside Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv on April 25, 2024, to call for government action to release the hostages. (Jack Guez/AFP)

There was no mention in the report of whether this would be the first phase of a wider deal for all the hostages, of the length of the proposed accompanying truce, or of Hamas’s relentless demand that Israel halt the war altogether as a condition for any further hostage releases.

Hamas has said that it has received Israel’s official response to its latest truce proposal, and will study it before submitting its reply.

The talks come amid renewed focus on the plight of women held hostage in Gaza with the release of Sheryl Sandberg’s new documentary on the systematic sexual violence perpetrated by Hamas in southern Israel on October 7 and the ongoing abuse of hostages, as well as the testimony of freed hostage Noga Weiss, who said that one of her Hamas captors told her they would get married, brought her a ring and told her she would stay in Gaza forever to have and raise his children.

Women highlight concerns hostages in Gaza may be pregnant as a result of rape at a protest in Tel Aviv, April 11, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

In addition, on Wednesday, Hamas published a propaganda video of Hersh Goldberg-Polin, held captive by the terror group since October 7.

In the nearly three-minute-long video, Goldberg-Polin, who is seen missing one of his hands, identified himself and asked the Israeli government to return the hostages home.

The video was not dated, but Goldberg-Polin says he has been held captive for “nearly 200 days,” indicating it was filmed recently.

After the video was released, Goldberg-Polin’s parents offered a plea to all of the leaders who have been negotiating for a hostage deal, naming Qatar, Egypt, the United States, Hamas and Israel.

“Be brave, lean in, seize this moment and get a deal done to reunite all of us with our loved ones and end the suffering in this region,” they urged. “Hersh, we heard your voice today for the first time in 201 days and if you can hear us, we are telling you, we love you, stay strong, survive.”

Anti-government protests, tarpaulins outside Netanyahu’s home

Amid an increasing convergence between the protests of the hostages’ families and the mass anti-government demonstrations that were a weekly event in the months before October 7, with some of the families accusing Netanyahu of blocking a deal for political reasons, a separate demonstration calling for early elections has been scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv.

Thousands were expected to rally at other locations across the country, organizers said.

Police on Friday hung tarpaulins across the usual barriers outside a private residence belonging to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family in Caesarea.

Regular protesters told the Walla news site it was the first time that their view of the home had been obscured, but that it would not deter them from rallying there.

On Friday, protesters rallied outside the Rosh Ha’ayin home of war cabinet minister Benny Gantz, urging him to leave the government.

The government’s popularity has plummeted since the beginning of the war, leading to growing calls for elections. It has faced blame over its failure to prevent the October 7 massacre, while some have charged it has fumbled when dealing with key matters relating to the conflict.

A Channel 12 poll last month found that a potential coalition led by National Unity party leader Gantz would secure 69 of the Knesset’s 120 seats if elections were held today, compared to a bloc led by Netanyahu, which would win only 46 seats.

When asked who they would like to see as prime minister, more respondents said Gantz over Netanyahu, by a margin of 41 percent to 29%.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on January 7, 2024. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP)

The war began when Palestinian terror group Hamas led a devastating cross-border attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people. The thousands of attackers who burst through the border with the Gaza Strip also abducted 253 people who were taken as hostages into the Palestinian enclave.

Israel responded with a military offensive to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza, destroy the terror group and free the hostages.

It is believed that 129 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that. Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 12 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 34 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. However, privately Israeli and US officials have said the number of dead may be much higher.

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 Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

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