Weekly rallies urging elections, hostage deal held amid elation over rescue op

Families forum pledges to continue pushing ‘Netanyahu deal’ for release of hostages as part of ceasefire, says government has duty to bring Israelis ‘happiness, joy and closure’

Illustrative: Protesters call for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, June 5, 2024. (Itai Ron/Flash90)
Illustrative: Protesters call for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip outside the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, June 5, 2024. (Itai Ron/Flash90)

Rallies were held in Tel Aviv on Saturday night to demand new elections and the return of Israeli hostages held by Hamas, hours after the military announced that four hostages were rescued alive from central Gaza’s Nuseirat camp.

News of the daring rescue mission led war cabinet member Benny Gantz to cancel a news conference scheduled for Saturday night, at which he was expected to announce he was leaving the government. The developments came amid uncertainty as to the fate of an Israeli proposal for a hostage-for-ceasefire deal that United States President Joe Biden presented last week.

Hamas has yet to formally respond to the proposal, though officials in the terror group have reiterated their insistence that any agreement must guarantee an end to the war, a demand Israel has repeatedly ruled out.

The Hostages and Families Forum has dubbed the proposal “the Netanyahu deal,” in an effort to shore up support for it.

“The happiness, bliss and closure are the government’s duty toward its citizens,” the group wrote on X after news of the hostages’ rescue.

“They must promote the approval of the Netanyahu deal as soon as this week!”

The forum held its weekly rally at Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square. Anti-government protest groups clamoring for new elections assembled nearby, outside the Kirya military headquarters’ southern entrance on Kaplan Street.

The demonstrations in Tel Aviv were complemented by related protests in other parts of the country, including in front of the Herzliya home of war cabinet observer Gadi Eisenkot, the No. 2 in Gantz’s National Unity party.

Gantz threatened last month to quit the government by June 8 if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to present an agreed-upon post-war plan for Gaza’s governance.

It was not immediately clear if Gantz would reschedule the press conference or if the rescue of the four hostages would alter his expected decision to leave the government. Gantz and his party have said Israel’s key aim in the war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 onslaught should be the hostages’ return.

Gadi Eisenkot (left) and Benny Gantz at the launch of the new National Unity party, August 14, 2022, in Kfar Maccabiah. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

A total of 251 people were taken hostage that day, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed southern Israel to kill nearly 1,200 people amid rampant atrocities.

Einav Zangauker, whose son Matan is held hostage in Gaza, called Friday for the public to take to the streets and demand a deal, accusing Netanyahu of sacrificing the hostages.

“I would like to appeal to all the people of Israel, to every mother and father who is watching us right now. I am so close to hugging Matan in my arms,” Einav said in a direct appeal to the public while appearing on Channel 12.

“There is a deal on the table, and our prime minister has decided to sacrifice them and us,” she charged.

Einav Zangauker, mother of Matan Zangauker who is being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza, sits on the street near the Begin Gate at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, June 1, 2024. (Paulina Patimer/Pro-Democracy Protest Movement)

Along with the weekly demonstrations, the Peace Partnership held a rally in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square calling to “stop the war as the occupation marks its 57th year,” referring to Israel’s capture during the 1967 Six Day War of areas the Palestinians claim for a future state.

An organizer from the group — a coalition of some two dozen left-wing organizations — said Friday that the police did not authorize the protest, though the police website showed that approval was granted on Friday.

It is believed that 116 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.

Illustrative: Protest organized by the Peace Partnership calling for an end to the Gaza war in the Arab town of Tira, Israel, March 9, 2024. (Peace Partnership/Courtesy)

Seven hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 19 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military. The Israel Defense Forces has confirmed the deaths of 41 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

One more person has been listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown. Hamas is also holding two Israeli civilians who entered the Strip in 2014 and 2015, as well as the bodies of two IDF soldiers who were killed in 2014.

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