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Huge protests urge Netanyahu to approve US ceasefire deal and release hostages

Tens of thousands of protesters have rallied in Tel Aviv to call for the resignation of Benjamin Netanyahu and the immediate release of hostages.

An estimated 120,000 people took to the streets of the Israeli capital to call on the far-right governing coalition to accept a ceasefire deal outlined by Joe Biden on Friday, according to local media.

The deal would see the staggered release of hostages captured on 7 October – the day of Hamas’s unprecedented attack on southern Israel, which killed 1,200 people – in return for a gradual withdrawal of Israeli troops from the besieged enclave of Gaza.

Skirmishes broke out between protesters and police, with two people reportedly arrested and 14 injured as police used a sound cannon to disperse crowds.

Israeli police remove a man blocking a main road at the protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Pic: AP
Image:
Israeli police remove a man blocking a main road at the protest. Pic: AP


FILE - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a press conference in the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, Israel on Oct. 28, 2023. Top Israeli officials are accused of seven war crimes and crimes against humanity by the ICC. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP, File)
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Benjamin Netanyahu is facing widespread opposition. Pic: AP

A water cannon was also reportedly deployed for the protest – believed to have been the biggest demonstration against Mr Netanyahu’s government since 7 October – but not used.

Families of hostages said time to get their loved ones back was running out as they gathered in different cities across Israel.

A protester stands beside a bonfire at the demonstration against Mr Netanyahu's government. Pic: AP
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A bonfire was lit at the demonstration. Pic: AP

About 120 of the 252 people taken are believed to still be in captivity since 7 October, an attack that prompted a retaliatory Israeli military campaign on Gaza which has left the territory in ruins, led to widespread starvation and killed more than 36,000 people, according to Palestinian health authorities.

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“This might be the last chance to save lives,” Gili Roman said.

His sister, Yarden Roman-Gat, was freed during a weeklong ceasefire in November, but his sister-in-law Carmel is still held.

A placard showing an Israeli hostage during protests inTel Aviv on Saturday. Pic: Reuters
Image:
A placard showing an Israeli hostage during Saturday’s protests. Pic: Reuters

“Our leadership must not disappoint us. But mostly, all eyes should be on Hamas,” Mr Roman said.

Mr Netanyahu’s office said on Saturday any notion that Israel would agree a permanent ceasefire before “the destruction of Hamas’ military and governing capabilities” was “a non-starter”.

An aide to the prime minister told the Sunday Times that Israel had accepted the deal outlined by the US president but “there are a lot of details to be worked out”.

Ophir Falk, chief foreign policy adviser to Mr Netanyahu, added Israel’s conditions of having “the release of the
hostages and the destruction of Hamas as a genocidal terrorist organisation” have not changed.

Besides the ongoing protests by families of hostages, Mr Netanyahu is also facing pressure from within his own circles as two far-right members of his coalition threatened to withdraw from the government if he went ahead with a deal that ended the war without destroying Hamas.

Hamas said on Friday it was ready to engage “positively and in a constructive manner”.

But senior official Mahmoud Mardawi told Qatari television it had not yet received details of the proposal.

Families described an aggressive meeting on Thursday with Israel’s national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, who told them the government wasn’t ready to sign a deal to bring all hostages home and there was no plan B.


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Many hostages’ families accuse the government of a lack of will.

“We know that the government of Israel has done an awful lot to delay reaching a deal, and that has cost the lives of many people who survived in captivity for weeks and weeks and months and months,” Sharone Lifschitz said.

Her mother, Yocheved, was freed in November but her father, Oded, is still held.

The first phase of the deal described by Mr Biden would last for six weeks and include a “full and complete ceasefire,” a withdrawal of Israeli forces from all densely populated areas of Gaza and the release of a number of hostages, including women, older people and the wounded, in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

The second phase would include the release of all remaining living hostages, including male soldiers, and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.

The third phase calls for the start of a major reconstruction of Gaza, which faces decades of rebuilding from the war’s devastation.

Meanwhile, US forces on Saturday destroyed one Iran-backed Houthi uncrewed aerial system in the southern Red Sea and saw two others crash into Red Sea, US Central Command said.

The Central Command forces also destroyed two Houthi anti-ship ballistic missiles fired in direction of the USS Gravely, it said.

No injuries or damage were reported by US, coalition or commercial ships, it said.

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