Relatives of hostages currently held by Hamas in Gaza staged a demonstration on Saturday outside the residence of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The protesters expressed their frustration with the perceived lack of progress by the government in securing the release of over 100 captives amid the prolonged conflict in Gaza.
A spokesperson for the families of the hostages stated that they had been pleading for action for 105 days and were now demanding strong leadership and decisive measures from the government to ensure the freedom of the hostages. A member of Israel's War Cabinet, in a comment that suggested criticism of the current strategy, emphasized that a cease-fire was the only viable way to secure the captives' release.
The protest outside the prime minister's residence and the remarks made by former Israeli army chief Gadi Eisenkot are indicative of the increasing tension within Israel regarding the direction of the war, now in its fourth month. Netanyahu has asserted his commitment to achieving "complete victory" against Hamas but has not provided specific details on how this would be accomplished.
Critics accuse Netanyahu of hindering a Cabinet-level discussion on a post-war scenario for Gaza, alleging that he is stalling to avoid potential conflict that could fracture his right-wing ruling coalition. The conflict began after Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on October 7, resulting in the death of approximately 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and the abduction of around 250 individuals from southern Israel.
Health authorities in Gaza report that nearly 25,000 Palestinians, predominantly women and children, have lost their lives due to Israel's offensive, which has caused extensive destruction and displaced over 80% of the population. The Israeli blockade, permitting only limited aid into Gaza, has led to widespread hunger and disease outbreaks, according to United Nations officials.
Netanyahu insists on achieving the hostages' release by crushing Hamas through military means. However, relatives of the remaining captives are intensifying their campaign for a negotiated deal. During a brief November ceasefire, more than 100 hostages, mostly women and children, were released in exchange for Palestinian women and minors imprisoned by Israel. Approximately 130 hostages are believed to remain in Gaza, with doubts about the survival of around 100 of them.
In a dramatic move, the father of a 28-year-old hostage initiated a hunger strike outside Netanyahu's home, symbolizing the meager food rations reportedly given to some hostages. Former army chief Gadi Eisenkot has challenged Netanyahu's insistence on a military solution, stating that a deal and a cease-fire are essential for the captives' safe return.
As part of the search efforts, Israel's military distributed leaflets in the southern town of Rafah, urging residents to provide information about the captives. The leaflets included photos of dozens of hostages and suggested benefits for those providing information.
Reports from Gaza indicate ongoing heavy bombardment and fighting between militants and Israeli troops, particularly in the southern city of Khan Younis and the Jabaliya refugee camp in the north. Despite the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the northern half of Gaza, questions persist in Israel about the feasibility of crushing Hamas as initially declared by the government.
In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, mourners gathered for the funeral of a 17-year-old American Palestinian who was shot and killed near Ramallah. The circumstances of the shooting remain unclear, with an investigation underway by Israeli police.
The Biden administration expressed serious concern about the incident, emphasizing the need for more information. In recent months, the administration has raised concerns about growing volatility in the West Bank, including settler violence against Palestinians.
(With Agency Inputs)