Thousands call for release of Gaza hostages in march to Jerusalem

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Thousands of Israelis including friends and relatives of hostages taken by Hamas arrived Saturday in Jerusalem, capping a four-day march to pressure the government to secure the captives’ release.

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Since Hamas militants surged out of Gaza six weeks ago and, according to Israel, seized some 240 hostages, their loved ones have waged a determined publicity campaign for their freedom.

A column of thousands of demonstrators draped in white and blue Israeli flags, some clutching portraits of the missing, reached Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem after a 60-kilometre (37-mile) walk.

“Bring them home now,” they chanted.

Relatives of hostages have consistently criticised the government for failing to keep them informed, and say release efforts should be an absolute priority of Israel’s campaign in Gaza following the October 7 attacks.

Family representatives were due to meet Israeli war cabinet members Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot.

“We want them to look at us in the eyes,” said Yuval Haran, whose mother and six other relatives are believed to be among the hostages held in Gaza.

Diplomatic sources this week reported Qatar-mediated negotiations were underway to free some of the hostages in return for a release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel and a temporary ceasefire in Gaza.

Diplomats have reported Qatar-mediated negotiations to free some hostages, but the talks have yet to yield results.
Diplomats have reported Qatar-mediated negotiations to free some hostages, but the talks have yet to yield results. © Ahmad Gharabli, AFP

But the talks have yet to yield results.

The Hamas attacks killed some 1,200 people in southern Israel, mostly civilians, according to Israeli officials.

The Hamas government has said the death toll from Israel’s retaliatory assault on Gaza has climbed to 12,000, also mostly civilians.

On Thursday evening, the Israeli army announced it had discovered the body of hostage Yehudit Weiss, 65, near Gaza’s biggest hospital in the north of the besieged territory.

On Friday, the army confirmed they had retrieved the body of 19-year-old soldier Noa Marciano near the same hospital. Hamas said she had been killed in an Israeli bombardment.

Numerous people initially believed to have been taken hostage on October 7 have subsequently been declared killed as a result of Israeli forensic investigations.

Four hostages have been freed so far by Hamas and another, a soldier, was rescued in an Israeli operation.


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