Scuffles as hostages’ families, supporters block key Tel Aviv highway to demand deal

Protesters display banners calling on National Unity party to condition remaining in government on agreement with Hamas to release abductees; police, some on horseback, clear road

Standing behind a flaming "HELP" slogan, families and supporters of hostages held in Gaza block Tel Aviv's Ayalon highway, February 3, 2024 (Courtesy/Protest Groups)
Standing behind a flaming "HELP" slogan, families and supporters of hostages held in Gaza block Tel Aviv's Ayalon highway, February 3, 2024 (Courtesy/Protest Groups)

Protesters led by family members of hostages held by terror groups in the Gaza Strip blocked a main Tel Aviv highway on Saturday night as they demanded the government agree to a deal with Hamas for their release.

The group intermittently blocked traffic on the Ayalon Highway and Ibn Gvirol Street amid minor scuffles with police, and in one case, a driver.

Demonstrators also wrote the word “Help” on the road in large, flaming letters, and held up banners declaring that the continued cohesion of the government coalition should not come “at the expense of the hostages’ lives.”

Israel Police intervened to drag protesters — some of whom were also calling for fresh elections — from the roadway.

Officers on horseback and others were filmed driving back protesters and detaining some.

There were no reports of arrests, although an altercation developed between a driver and some of the demonstrators.

In a video, a man could be seen shoving one of the protesters, reportedly Dan Palti, a relative of hostage Elad Katzir.

The Ayalon protest was held alongside an official rally on behalf of the captives that was held at Hostages Square, at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.

The Hostages Square protest was organized by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, which is pushing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accept a framework for a prisoner swap with Hamas, which is believed to be holding 136 hostages.

In addition, a rally was held at the nearby Habima Square, where protesters called for new elections.

Both events had a clear political theme, with protesters directing their messages at some members of the government and urging them not to give in to those who oppose an exchange agreement with terror groups.

In a statement, the Families Forum directed a message to National Unity leader Minister Benny Gantz, and his No. 2, Gadi Eisenkot. Gantz brought his party into the cabinet to help oversee the ongoing war that erupted when 3,000 Hamas-led terrorists invaded Israel on October 7, murdering some 1,200 people and abducting another 253. More than 100 hostages were released in a prisoner swap during a weeklong ceasefire in November.

Police disperse protesters during a protest against the government, in Tel Aviv, on February 3, 2024. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Amid reports that another hostage deal is being advanced that could see the release of thousands of Palestinian security prisoners held by Israel, far-right ministers in Netanyahu’s coalition have rejected any such plan.

“Today we call on Gantz and Eisenkot,” the Families Forum said in a statement. “Send Netanyahu a clear message – [we insist on] a deal that includes all [the hostages], or we will withdraw from the government.”

“The time has come for Netanyahu to choose between sane Israel — the majority of the public who want the abductees home — and Ben Gvir and Smotrich,” the Forum said referring to National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who lead the far-right Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism parties respectively.

According to numerous unconfirmed reports, Hamas is demanding far-reaching concessions, including a mass release of Palestinian prisoners, for a second deal. Ben Gvir has threatened to pull out of the coalition, endangering the government, if such an agreement to free the hostages goes ahead.

Netanyahu has ruled out releasing thousands of prisoners for the hostages. He has also rejected a key Hamas demand — ending the war and withdrawing the IDF — as a condition for any further hostage releases, insisting that the war will end only when Hamas is destroyed and all hostages released.

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