Protests in Israel target Netanyahu over release of captives

Thousands of people have taken to the streets in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv over the government’s handling of the crisis.

Friend and relatives hold portraits of Israeli hostage Idan Shviti, abducted during the October 7 Hamas attack, at a rally calling for the release of hostages, in Tel Aviv on November 4, 2023. [AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP]
Friends and relatives hold portraits of Israeli captive Idan Shviti, abducted during the October 7 Hamas attack, at a rally calling for the release of captives, in Tel Aviv on November 4, 2023 [Ahmad Gharabli/AFP]

Thousands of people have taken to the streets in Israel as pressure mounts on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his government’s lack of preparedness for the October 7 attacks by Palestinian group Hamas and its handling of the ensuing captive crisis.

Police held back hundreds of protesters outside Netanyahu’s residence on Saturday. Waving blue and white Israeli flags, demonstrators chanted “Jail now!” as a crowd pushed through security barriers.

In Israel’s commercial hub Tel Aviv, several thousand protesters, including relatives and friends of some of the captives, chanted: “Bring them home now”.

“I expect and demand from my government, think out of the box,” said Hadas Kalderon, who said five members of her family were among the kidnapped.

“I find myself in hell,” she said. “Every day I wake up to another day of war. A war for the life of my children.”

Netanyahu has so far not accepted personal responsibility for the failures that allowed the surprise assault which saw hundreds of Hamas fighters storm into southern Israel on October 7, killing more than 1,400 people and taking at least 240 captive.

The war Israel has since launched on Gaza has so far killed more than 9,400 Palestinians, most of them women and children, and reduced large areas of the besieged enclave to rubble.

Public anger in Israel has been growing, with many families of the captives held in Gaza bitterly critical of the government’s response and calling for their relatives to be brought home.

Even before the war, Netanyahu had been a divisive figure, fighting corruption charges, which he denies, and pushing through a plan to curb the powers of the judiciary that brought hundreds of thousands to the streets to protest.

On Saturday, a poll for Israel’s Channel 13 Television found 76 percent of Israelis thought Netanyahu, now serving a record sixth term as prime minister, should resign and 64 percent said the country should hold an election immediately after the war.

When asked who is most at fault for the attack, 44 percent of Israelis blamed Netanyahu, while 33 percent blamed the military chief of staff and senior Israeli Defence Force officials and 5 percent blamed the defence minister, according to the poll.

Calls for ‘humanitarian pauses’, ceasefire

On Saturday, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed the US is calling for “humanitarian pauses” in Gaza, during a press conference in Amman with his counterparts from Jordan and Egypt.

But the Jordanian and Egyptian ministers rebuked that position, instead reiterating the need for an immediate ceasefire – echoing calls from other Arab leaders.

The armed wing of Hamas said on Saturday that more than 60 captives are missing because of Israeli air raids on Gaza.

Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the Qassam Brigades, also said on Hamas’s Telegram account that 23 bodies of Israeli captives were trapped under the rubble.

“It seems that we will never be able to reach them due to the continued brutal aggression of the occupation against Gaza,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies