Israeli protesters block highways, demand ceasefire to return captives after nine months of war in Gaza

TEL AVIV, Israel (AFP) – Marking nine months since the start of the war in Gaza, Israeli protesters blocked highways across the country on Sunday, demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu step down and pressing for a ceasefire to return dozens of hostages held by Hamas.

The demonstrations come amid long-running efforts to broker a truce. Gained momentum last week. But at the same time, Hamas has backed away from its main demand for an Israeli commitment to end the war. The militant group still wants mediators to guarantee a permanent ceasefire, while Netanyahu has vowed to continue fighting until Israel destroys Hamas’s military and governmental capabilities.

“Any agreement will allow Israel to return and fight until all the war goals are achieved,” Netanyahu said in a statement Sunday that is likely to heighten Hamas’s concerns about the proposal.

The “day of disruption” began on Sunday at 6:29 a.m., the same time Hamas militants fired the first rockets at Israel in the October 7 attack that sparked the war. Protesters blocked main roads and demonstrated outside the homes of government ministers.

Near the border with Gaza, Israeli protesters released 1,500 black and yellow balloons, symbolizing citizens who were killed and kidnapped.

Hannah Golan said she came to protest the “devastating abandonment of our communities by our government.” She added: “It has been nine months today, since that dark day, and still no one in our government is taking responsibility.”

Palestinian militants killed about 1,200 people. In a surprise attack The occupation forces captured 250 other Palestinians. The Israeli retaliatory attack resulted in the deaths of more than 38,000 Palestinians, according to the Ministry of Health in the Strip, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its statistics.

About 120 hostages are still being held by Hamas after more than 100 were released as part of a ceasefire agreement reached last November. Israel has already concluded that more than 40 of the remaining hostages have been killed, and there are fears that number will rise as the war continues.

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The United States has successfully rallied the world behind a proposal for a phased ceasefire, in which Hamas would release the remaining prisoners in exchange for a permanent ceasefire and an Israeli troop withdrawal from Gaza. But Hamas wants assurances from mediators that the war will end, while Israel wants the freedom to resume fighting if talks continue over the release of the final batch of hostages.

Israel continues to battle pockets of Palestinian militants across Gaza after months of heavy bombardment and ground operations that have devastated the territory’s main cities and displaced most of its 2.3 million residents, often multiple times. On Sunday, Israel issued new evacuation orders for parts of Gaza City, which was heavily bombarded and largely emptied early in the war.

Bodies found with their hands tied

The Nasser Hospital in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis said the bodies of three Palestinians were recovered from the area of ​​the Kerem Shalom crossing with Israel. The hospital statement said they were handcuffed, and an Associated Press reporter saw one of the bodies with its hands tied.

Abdul Hadi Ghabayen, the uncle of one of the dead, said they were working to secure the passage of humanitarian aid and commercial shipments through the crossing. He said he saw soldiers detaining them on Saturday, and that the bodies bore signs of beatings, with one of them suffering a broken leg.

The Israeli military said it was looking into the reports.

Thousands of Palestinians have been arrested since the beginning of the war, and many of those who have been released, As well as some Israelis who worked in detention centers.Detainees say they were tortured and held in harsh conditions. Israeli authorities deny mistreating prisoners.

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Meanwhile, Israeli airstrikes that continued overnight and into Sunday killed at least 13 Palestinians, including the deputy labor minister in the largely dismantled Hamas-led government.

Ihab al-Ghussein was among four people killed in an airstrike on a school turned shelter in Gaza City, according to the Civil Defense, a group of first responders under the Hamas government. Hamas mourned his loss in a statement and said an airstrike earlier in the war destroyed his home, killing his wife and daughter.

The Israeli military said it struck an armed compound “in the area of ​​a school building” as well as a nearby Hamas weapons manufacturing facility in Gaza City after taking steps to mitigate harm to civilians.

The Israeli army announced separately that one of its officers was killed in a battle in the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, bringing the total number of Israeli soldiers killed to 680 since the start of the war.

Israel exchanges fire with Hezbollah

The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah said early Sunday it fired dozens of rockets toward northern Israel, targeting areas more than 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the border, a depth greater than most launches. Israel’s National Rescue Service said a 28-year-old man was seriously wounded.

Another attack near the border wounded three people, one seriously, according to the Galilee Medical Center. Israeli media reported that the seriously wounded person was an American citizen. There was no immediate confirmation from the military.

Hezbollah began firing rockets and mortars after the war in Gaza broke out. The scope and intensity of Israeli attacks and counterattacks have escalated in recent weeks, raising fears of an all-out war that would cause massive damage to civilian infrastructure. Serious consequences For people on both sides of the border.

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Mediators from the United States, Egypt and Qatar have stepped up efforts in the past week to broker a deal between Israel and Hamas. Hezbollah said It will stop its attacks if a ceasefire is reached in Gaza..

The Hamas-brokered deal reached on Saturday could lead to the first ceasefire since November and pave the way for further talks, though all sides have warned that a deal is not yet guaranteed.

The interim deal proposed by Washington would begin with a “full and comprehensive” six-week ceasefire, during which elderly, sick and female hostages would be released in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. During those 42 days, Israeli forces would withdraw from densely populated areas of Gaza and allow displaced people to return to their homes in northern Gaza.

Palestinians, tired of war in the Gaza Strip, appeared pessimistic, after previous instances in which the two sides appeared to be close to reaching an agreement.

“We have lived through nine months of suffering. A ceasefire has become a distant dream,” said Hiba Radi, a mother of six who has been living in a tent in the central Gaza city of Deir al-Balah since fleeing her home in Gaza City.

___ This report was prepared by Magdy from Cairo, with additional reporting by Associated Press writer Natalie Melzer in Jerusalem.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war on https://apnews.com/hub/Israel-Hamas-War

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