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Tens of thousands of Israelis take part in anti-gov’t protests

In News, World
April 01, 2024

Protesters say Jerusalem rally is the biggest anti-government protest since Israel launched its war on Gaza in October.

Tens of thousands of people have gathered outside the Israeli parliament building in Jerusalem in the largest anti-government protest since Israel launched its assault on Gaza.

The protesters on Sunday demanded the government secure a ceasefire deal that would also free Israeli captives held by Hamas in Gaza and called for early elections.

Demonstrators claimed the Jerusalem protest was the biggest since Israel launched its war on Gaza in October.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has faced widespread criticism over the security failure of the October 7 Hamas-led attack on southern Israel in which 1,139 people were killed and around 250 others taken hostage to Gaza, according to Israeli authorities. Israel’s war on Gaza has killed at least 32,782 people, mostly women and children, according to Palestinian authorities.

A truce between Israel and Hamas in November led to the release of more than 100 hostages in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners who were held in Israeli prisons.

A new round of talks on a ceasefire and captive exchange was expected to start on Sunday in Cairo, although Hamas said the group had not decided whether to send a delegation.

Mediators had hoped to secure a ceasefire before the start of Ramadan, but progress stalled and the Muslim holy month is more than half over.

“After six months, it seems like the government understands that Bibi Netanyahu is an obstacle,” demonstrator Einav Moses, whose father-in-law, Gadi Moses, is being held captive, told the Associated Press news agency. “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 and organisers have vowed to continue the demonstration for several days.

The demonstrators say they will sleep in tents in the city in order to stage their protest, said Al Jazeera’s Hamdah Salhut, reporting from the demonstrations in West Jerusalem.

“They say they want to oust Netanyahu; they say they’re fed up with his policies, ones that have not seen the return of the remaining Israeli captives who are held in Gaza,” said Salhut.

The demonstrators also demanded new elections nearly two years ahead of schedule.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid sharply criticised Netanyahu at the demonstration, saying he was destroying Israel’s relations with the United States and leaving the captives to their fate.

The prime minister was doing “everything for politics, nothing for the country”, Lapid said.

Thousands of others demonstrated in Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city.

An officer holds a demonstrator's clothing as anti-government protesters launch a prolonged demonstration
An officer holds a demonstrator’s clothing as anti-government protesters launch a prolonged demonstration calling for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to resign [Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]

Netanyahu, in a nationally televised speech before he was due to undergo hernia surgery, said he understood families’ pain.

He said calling new elections would paralyse Israel for six to eight months.

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

“There is no victory without going into Rafah,” he said, adding that US pressure would not deter him.

Anti-government protesters launch a prolonged demonstration calling for Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu's government to resign
Anti-government protesters call for Israel’s current government to step down [Ronen Zvulun/Reuters]

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