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Thousands of Israelis rally for hostages, marking six months of war

By Dedi Hayun

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Thousands of protesters rallied in Jerusalem on Sunday demanding the release of around 130 hostages still held in Gaza after six months of Israel’s war against Hamas.

Hamas gunmen burst into Israel on Oct. 7, killed 1,200 people in their homes, on army bases, along roads and at an outdoor rave and inflicting sexual violence on some of their victims, according to a U.N. team of experts.

The gunmen also seized 253 hostages, including children and elderly, civilians and soldiers. Around half of them were released as part of a brief truce deal in late November.

Talks to secure another ceasefire that would include the release of dozens more of the remaining hostages, resumed in Egypt on Sunday.

But some hostage families are wary, with previous rounds of negotiations having gone nowhere and some of the hostages dying in captivity.

“Their families and everybody here has had enough. And people need to understand that and the world needs to stand up and get them back,” said Michal Nachshon, 39, who made her way from Tel Aviv to the protest outside Israel’s parliament

“It’s above politics. It’s above religion, it’s a humanitarian issue and that’s what we’re here to shout today,” she added.

While some hostage parents at Sunday’s rally called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to do more to bring home the hostages, speakers largely kept messages apolitical, focusing on their pain and the urgent need to get their loved ones home.

But over the past few weeks, protests against Netanyahu’s government have intensified with some critics charging that the veteran leader has been dragging his feet in securing a deal – an accusation he strongly denies.

Netanyahu’s cabinet has faced widespread criticism over the security failure of Oct. 7 – Israel’s deadliest single day and the worst attack on Jews since the Holocaust.

Some rallies demanding an election be held have been organised by protest groups that led the mass demonstrations which rocked Israel in 2023. Successive opinion polls since Oct. 7 have shown Netanyahu would be defeated by centrists.

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