More than 100,000 Israelis march demanding hostage release

For the first time, relatives of hostages kidnapped by Hamas in the Gaza Strip also joined the anti-government protests.

Israelis marching to demand hostages release.

Around 100,000 people, according to organizers, gathered this Sunday in Jerusalem to protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and demand early elections due to his handling of the war in the Gaza Strip, which is nearing six months.

For the first time, relatives of hostages kidnapped by Hamas in the Gaza Strip also joined the anti-government protests, demanding an agreement facilitating the release of the 130 captives still held in the enclave.

This is the largest protest in Israel since the war began, with 100,000 attendees, according to organizers’ estimates.

“If you can’t bring them back, step aside, go away. We need someone in your place who can,” said Hanna Katzir’s daughter during the protest, referring to one of the hostages released during the seven-day truce agreed between Israel and Hamas last November.

The Prime Minister, speaking to the media during the march, argued that calling early elections would only serve to stall negotiations to free the hostages. “Hamas would be the first to thank for it,” he said.

Netanyahu assured that he is doing everything in his power to bring back the hostages, but that the demands of the Islamist group in the negotiations in Doha, Qatar, “pose a danger to national security.”

Protesters see it differently. “Netanyahu doesn’t want the hostages to come home because he knows that in that case he would have to face pending trials and could go to jail. That’s why he’s prolonging this war so much,” said Maya Gal, 70, who participated in the march against the government.

According to Maya, the Prime Minister “doesn’t care about either the soldiers or the hostages, only his political interests.”

Netanyahu’s opposition leader, Yair Lapid, criticized the authorities’ decision not to cancel the Knesset’s (Parliament’s) spring recess, which lasts six weeks and will begin on April 7.

“We don’t have a recess for the people who are fighting in Gaza. Why should the Knesset go on vacation at a time like this?” said Lapid during a speech at the protest, which will last four days, as the protesters plan to set up tents in front of the parliament.

The protest brought together various Israeli movements and groups calling for the resignation of the Prime Minister. Among them, dozens of reserve soldiers gathered in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim, where they called for yeshiva students (Talmudic schools) to be recruited.

For decades, ultra-Orthodox young men of military age have been able to avoid conscription if they were enrolled in schools where they study the Torah and, through annual extensions, managed to reach the age of 26, the current military exemption age, without having to enlist.

But a government provision, passed in June 2023, expires at midnight on Sunday, allowing ultra-Orthodox individuals to begin being drafted tomorrow.

Following the massive mobilization of 287,000 reservists for the Gaza war, which has been going on for almost six months, in addition to the deployment of soldier battalions both on the northern border with Lebanon and in the occupied territory of the West Bank, many Israelis are calling on Netanyahu for all young people in Israel to fulfill their “military duty.”

However, his government’s current coalition depends on vital support from ultra-Orthodox parties – Shas and United Torah Judaism – opposed to enlistment and with the ability to bring down the government if forced to do so.

Israel’s Attorney General, Gali Baharav-Miara, sent letters today to the Ministries of Defense and Education to ask them to begin working on the ultra-Orthodox recruitment plan starting tomorrow.

Netanyahu expressed confidence today that the ultra-Orthodox recruitment issue will be resolved with an agreement between political groups.

The Prime Minister will undergo surgery on Sunday for a hernia discovered on Saturday, but he assured that he will be back in action very soon.

Meanwhile, in the Gaza Strip, around a dozen journalists were injured in an Israeli airstrike on the courtyard of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in the city of Deir al-Balah, the largest in the central Gaza area, where two people also died, according to a source from the Gaza Ministry of Health.

Hamas authorities announced that the number of journalists killed in Gaza since the start of the war rose to 137 today, after a photojournalist working for several media outlets died when his house was bombed in the al-Maghazi refugee camp near Deir al-Balah.

Close to 32,800 people have died since the start of the war, with over 70% of them being women and children, and around thirty children have died from acute malnutrition due to the imminent famine looming in the enclave, according to data from the Gaza Ministry of Health.

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