Thousands of Israelis press Netanyahu accept ceasefire to bring hostages home

TEL AVIV: Thousands of Israelis protested on Saturday, demanding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accept a ceasefire agreement with the Islamist movement Hamas that would see the remaining Israeli hostages brought home from Gaza.

At a rally in Tel Aviv that took place as Hamas officials were meeting Egyptian and Qatari mediators in Cairo, relatives and supporters of the more than 130 hostages still in captivity said anything possible had to be done to bring them home.

“I’m here today to support a deal now, yesterday,” said Natalie Eldor. “We need to bring them back. We need to bring all the hostages back, the live ones, the dead ones. We got to bring them back. We got to switch this government. This has got to end.”

The protests, ahead of the Yom HaShoah Holocaust Remembrance Day, which falls this year on May 6, came as the war in Gaza nears the end of its seventh month amid growing international pressure to stop the fighting.

“The only thing that keeps us going is the hope that Bar is alive and surviving,” said Ora Rubinstein, the aunt of Bar Kupershtein, who was seized along with more than 250 others when Hamas-led gunmen rampaged through Israeli communities near Gaza on Oct. 7.

Many of those taken hostage are believed to be dead but families want all of those taken to be brought back.

“Everyone must be returned. We will not abandon them as the Jews were abandoned during the Holocaust,” said Hanna Cohen, an aunt of 27-year-old Inbar Haiman, who was initially believed to have been taken hostage on Oct. 7 but was subsequently found to have been killed. Her body is still believed to be being held by Hamas in Gaza.

Some 1,200 Israelis and foreigners were killed on Oct. 7, in the deadliest day in Israel’s history, according to Israeli tallies.

In response, Israel launched a devastating assault on the Gaza Strip, destroying large swathes of the enclave and killing more than 34,000 people, according to Palestinian health authorities.

Netanyahu’s government has insisted that it will not stop the war until Hamas is destroyed and all the hostages are returned but intensive efforts are underway to secure a halt to the fighting that might lead to a full ceasefire.

However Netanyahu faces pressure from nationalist religious parties in his coalition to refuse a deal with Hamas and go ahead with the long promised offensive against the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

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