Israel protests to Netanyahu to bring home Hamas hostages from Gaza

TEL AVIV – Family members of Israeli hostages held by Hamas braved winter thunderstorms for a second night of protests since ceasefire talks stalled this week.

Thousands gathered outside Israeli military headquarters chanting “Now! Now! Now!” Demonstrators blocked a major road in downtown Tel Aviv on Thursday; A group of hostages' family members came together and barricaded the gates during the War Cabinet meeting, handcuffed.

Some threw colored smoke bombs and carried posters depicting Netanyahu's son as a hostage: “How would it be different if he was?”

On Friday, protesters shot flares into the sky and demanded Netanyahu step down. Police and trucks blocked their way. Demonstrators blame the prime minister for security failures that led to Hamas attacks on Israeli communities on Oct. 7 — when officials say militants killed 1,200 people — and his handling of the war in Gaza and hostage-taking.

“Netanyahu has to leave or we will not take home the hostages,” said Tel Aviv filmmaker Karen Peltz. The protests are starting to pick up, but not yet as large or as angry as the anti-government protests that rocked Israel for months last year.

On October 7, Hamas and allied fighters took 253 hostages. More than 100 Palestinians were released in exchange for more than 200 Palestinian prisoners during the fighting in November. Israeli officials believe there are more than 100 hostages in Gaza.

Prosecutors warn that time is running out for the hostages who have been held in Gaza for 19 weeks. They were angered when Netanyahu pulled the Israeli team out of cease-fire talks in Cairo on Wednesday.

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The prime minister said further talks were pointless until Hamas dropped its “illusory demands” for Israel to withdraw from Gaza.

Israeli protesters have blocked aid from being sent to Gaza

Mossad chief David Barnia, CIA director William J. A Cairo meeting reportedly attended by Burns and senior Hamas leaders from outside Gaza followed reports of progress in the Paris talks. Confidence rose among the families of the remaining hostages, some of whom were elderly or injured.

Israel estimates that more than two dozen hostages may have died. Officials have returned their remains as part of negotiations.

Netanyahu, under pressure from members of his narrow ruling majority to continue the Gaza offensive, ordered his troops out of Egypt, defying not only demands from the hostages' families but also international outrage over the rising civilian death toll. Gaza's health ministry says more than 28,000 Gazans have been killed in the three-month war.

Diplomats said talks brokered by Egypt, Qatar and the United States were continuing. An Israeli familiar with the debate said Netanyahu's public statements did not mean Israeli negotiators were not able to engage behind the scenes. “They're still talking,” said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment.

But the hostage groups responded with fury. They said Netanyahu was prioritizing reaching a deal to appease his right-wing political base.

“If the Cairo initiative fails, 134 children and parents will be victims and die,” the largest family umbrella group said in a statement. “Don't sacrifice them, don't abandon them again.”

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One family member after another took the stage on Saturday to plead with the government to take action.

“Leave politics,” cried one hostage's son. “Bring them home now.”

Thousands came out despite heavy rain and cold winds over the weekend. Netanyahu has seen his support fall to an all-time low as citizens hold him accountable for the policies that allowed Hamas to flourish, and the collapse of intelligence and security that allowed the extremists to lead the October 7 attack.

Two-thirds of Israelis want to see early elections, polls show, and a third are ready for them before the end of the Gaza war. On Saturday, the head of Israel's largest and most influential trade union group called on Netanyahu to step down and face voters.

“We are at an impasse and there is only one way out – elections,” Histadrut's head Arnon Bar-David said, local media reported.

Anger against the prime minister is growing, but analysts say it is unlikely to reach a radical population until the number of combat troops in Gaza is reduced, tensions on the Lebanese border ease and hostages are released.

Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democratic Party, said, “There is no sense that we are still in a post-war situation. “But we are getting there.”

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