Protesters briefly block Tel Aviv highway to demand deal freeing hostages in Gaza

Unfurling banner calling on Israel to save who it still can, Women’s March protest group says Israeli delegation cannot return from Cairo negotiations without an agreement

Israelis block the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv, during a protest calling for the release of Israelis held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, May 8, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Israelis block the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv, during a protest calling for the release of Israelis held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, May 8, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Protesters demanding the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip blocked rush hour traffic on the Ayalon freeway in central Tel Aviv Wednesday morning, as activists sought to step up pressure on the government to reach a deal with the Hamas terror group.

Holding a massive banner reading “Save who is still possible [to save]” and unleashing billowing clouds of orange smoke, a group of over a dozen mostly female protesters blocked northbound lanes of the busy highway for about 20 minutes at 8 a.m. before being removed by law enforcement.

“We want them alive, not in coffins,” protesters chanted from lanes of blacktop near the Rokah interchange in north Tel Aviv, as traffic backed up.

Police handed out fines to 14 protesters for blocking traffic, Haaretz reported.

The demonstration was held two days after Israel said a Hamas ceasefire proposal fell short of its core demands, sparking re-energized demonstrations from families of hostages and anti-government activists in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and elsewhere even as mediated talks aimed at reaching an elusive deal restarted in Cairo.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hamas’s claim that it had accepted a deal had been intended “to torpedo the entry of our forces into Rafah,” the southern Gaza city where Israel’s military has begun to operate ahead of a looming large-scale ground operation.

A protester holds a sign reading “Those who abandoned [the hostages] must bring [them] back” as demonstrators block the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv, demanding that the Israeli government reach a deal for the release of the hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, May 8, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Israeli officials said on Monday that the terms of the deal Hamas said it had accepted had been altered and “softened” from those Israel had approved several days prior. Israel rejected the proposal, but dispatched a working-level team to Cairo for talks being mediated by the US, Egypt and Qatar.

“Save who you still can, it’s the imperative of the day. The Israeli delegation cannot return from Cairo without a deal,” the Women’s March protest group, which organized the action on the Ayalon freeway Wednesday, said in a statement carried by Channel 12 news.

One hundred and twenty-eight hostages of the 252 kidnapped on October 7 remain in Gaza, including the remains of at least 36 who were killed during the onslaught or in the seven months since.

On Tuesday, Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak announced that resident Lior Rudaeff was among the dead, with his body held in Gaza.

People walk by photographs of Israelis still held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza. May 5, 2024. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Israel and Hamas have been holding indirect negotiations for months aimed at reaching a deal that would free hostages and halt the fighting that has been raging in Gaza since the October 7 assault by the terror group on southern Israel that slaughtered some 1,200 people.

Officials have indicated that the sides are nearing a phased deal for the release of hostages in exchange for Palestinians held in Israeli prison. However, the deal proffered by Hamas Monday included the possibility of the terror group releasing the remains of deceased hostages in an initial stage, which Israel said differed from its demand that Hamas release 33 living abductees.

The failure of the negotiations to date has galvanized many relatives of those kidnapped, some of whom have joined anti-government protesters in accusing the government of sabotaging the chances for an agreement in order to push ahead with an invasion of Rafah, which is thought to be Hamas’s last major stronghold but is also home to over a million Gazans who have fled the fighting in other parts of the Strip.

Relatives and supporters of hostages taken captive by Hamas on October 7 hold placards and wave flags during a demonstration calling for their release, Tel Aviv, May 6, 2024. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Hardline members of Netanyahu’s government have demanded that a Rafah offensive be prioritized over a deal. A poll published Tuesday found that 56 percent of Jewish Israelis prioritize reaching a deal over invading Hamas’s final remaining stronghold in Gaza, while 37% believe military action should take precedence.

Hamas’s statement Monday that it had accepted a ceasefire deal came after months of the group consistently rejecting offers put forth by mediators and agreed to by Israel. The claim briefly buoyed hopes that a long-sought deal could be in the offing, kicking off celebrations in some parts of Gaza.

Following Israel’s announcement Monday that the terms did not match its offer, protesters, including some hostage families, blocked parts of the Ayalon highway amid a fiery demonstration demanding the government cease the war to allow for a deal to free the abductees.

“The time has come to take the deal. The time has come for a ceasefire,” Einav Zangauker, mother of hostage Matan Zangauker, yelled into a bullhorn from the roof of a car stopped on the highway Monday night. “We won’t let them pass up the chance tonight.”

On Tuesday night, protesters demanding a deal blocked Jerusalem’s light rail and scuffled with police.

Demonstrators protest calling for the for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip, in Jerusalem, May 7, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90

The Hostages and Missing Families Forum, the main group representing families of the kidnapped, said on Tuesday that it had appealed to a number of countries to pressure Israel for an agreement.

“This is the time to exert your influence on the Israeli government and all other parties concerned to ensure that the agreement comes through which will finally bring all our loved ones home,” the group said in a message sent to the ambassadors of all countries with citizens among the hostages seized by Hamas and other terror groups during the October 7 massacre.

Israel believes that four of Hamas’s six remaining battalions are located in Rafah, along with members of the terror group’s leadership and a significant number of the hostages, leading Netanyahu to vow that the Israeli military will operate in the southern Gaza city regardless of any hostage deal.

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike on buildings near the separating wall between Egypt and Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, May 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Ramez Habboub)

Netanyahu said Tuesday that continued military pressure on Hamas was necessary to reach a deal that returns the hostages.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza has said that more than 34,700 Palestinians have been killed in the war that erupted in Gaza in the wake of October 7. The unverifiable figures provided by the Hamas health officials do not distinguish between combatants and civilians, and Israel said it has killed more than 13,000 Hamas terrorists in Gaza, as well as 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Two hundred and sixty-seven IDF soldiers have been killed in the fighting in Gaza and amid operations on the border.

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