Israelis rally in anti-govt protest since Gaza war, urge hostages’ release | World News

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Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered outside the parliament building in Jerusalem on Sunday in the largest anti-government demonstration since the country went to war in October. They urged the government to reach a deal to free dozens of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza and to hold early elections.


Nearly six months of war have renewed divisions in Israeli society. The Hamas militant group killed some 1,200 people during its cross-border attack on October 7, and took 250 others hostage. Roughly half the hostages were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November, but repeated attempts by international mediators to broker another cease-fire deal have failed.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to destroy Hamas and bring all the hostages home. But those goals have been elusive. While Hamas has suffered heavy losses, it remains intact, and hostages’ families believe time is running out.


After six months, it seems like the government understands that Bibi Netanyahu is an obstacle, said demonstrator Einav Moses, whose father-in-law, Gadi Moses, is held hostage. Like he doesn’t really want to bring them back, that they have failed in this mission.


The crowd stretched for blocks around the Knesset, or parliament building, and organisers vowed to continue the demonstration for several days. They urged the government to cancel an upcoming parliamentary recess and to hold new elections nearly two years ahead of schedule.


Netanyahu, in a nationally televised speech before undergoing hernia surgery later Sunday, said he understood the pain of the hostages’ families. I will do everything to bring the hostages home,” he said.


He also said calling new elections in what he described as a moment before victory would paralyse Israel for six to eight months and would paralyse the hostage talks.


Netanyahu also repeated his vow for a military ground offensive in Rafah, the southern Gaza city where more than half of territory’s population of 2.3 million now shelters after fleeing fighting elsewhere.


There is no victory without going into Rafah,” he said.


The military has said Hamas battalions remain there. Allies and humanitarian groups have warned of catastrophe with a Rafah ground offensive.


Also Sunday, an Israeli airstrike hit a tent camp in the courtyard of a crowded hospital in central Gaza, killing two Palestinians and wounding another 15, including journalists working nearby.


An Associated Press reporter filmed the strike and aftermath at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah, where thousands of people have sheltered. The Israeli military said it struck a command center of the Islamic Jihad militant group.


Tens of thousands of people have sought shelter in Gaza’s hospitals, viewing them as relatively safe from airstrikes. Israel accuses Hamas and other militants of operating in and around medical facilities, which Gaza’s health officials deny.


Israeli troops have been raiding Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest, for nearly two weeks and says it has killed scores of fighters, including senior Hamas operatives.


Only a third of Gaza’s hospitals are even partially functioning, while Israeli strikes kill and wound scores of people every day. Doctors say they are often forced to operate without anesthetic and other crucial supplies.


Those wounded in Sunday’s strike lay on Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital floor and gasped while being treated, one clutching at the underside of a stretcher that held someone else.


Not far from Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, dozens of Palestinian Christians gathered at the Holy Family Church to celebrate Easter, with incense wafting through the rare building that appeared untouched by war. We are here with sadness, attendee Winnie Tarazi said. About 600 people shelter in the compound.


Israel is carrying out one of the deadliest and most destructive military campaigns in recent history.


The United Nations and partners warn that famine could occur in devastated, largely isolated northern Gaza. Humanitarian officials say deliveries by sea and air are not enough and that Israel must allow far more aid by road. Egypt has said thousands of trucks are waiting. The top UN court has ordered Israel to open more land crossings and take other measures to address the crisis.


The head of the World Food Programme, Cindy McCain, told CBS it was able to get just nine trucks into Gaza on Thursday. That’s nothing. We just cannot continue this way, she said, calling for unrestricted access. People are going to die otherwise, and they already are dying.


Gaza’s Health Ministry said Sunday that at least 32,782 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the war, including 77 whose bodies were brought to hospitals over the last 24 hours. The ministry’s count does not differentiate between civilians and fighters, but it has said that women and children make up around two-thirds of those killed.


Israel says over one-third of the dead are militants, though it has not provided evidence, and it blames Hamas for civilian casualties because the group operates in residential areas.


The United States, Qatar and Egypt have been trying to broker another cease-fire and hostage release. Talks resumed in Cairo on Sunday with little expectation of any breakthrough.


Hamas wants any such agreement to lead to an end to the war and the withdrawal of Israeli forces. Netanyahu has rejected those demands and says Israel will keep fighting until it has destroyed Hamas’ military and governing capabilities.


Amid concerns about a wider conflict in the region, Lebanese state media reported that an Israeli drone struck a car in the southern Lebanese town of Konin.


A Lebanese security official told The Associated Press that Hezbollah militant Ismail al-Zain was killed, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. Israel’s military called al-Zain a significant commander in Hezbollah’s elite Radwan Forces’ anti-tank unit, which has conducted strikes into northern Israel. Hezbollah confirmed the death.

(Only the headline and picture of this report may have been reworked by the Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Apr 01 2024 | 7:14 AM IST

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