Israel govt opponents rally amid deadlock on hostages

Thousands of Israelis have rallied against their government, with some demanding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu call off the half-year-old war in Gaza amid a deadlock in diplomatic efforts to retrieve hostages held there by Hamas.

Hamas-led gunmen seized 253 people during an October 7 attack on Israel that killed 1200 others, according to officials. 

Some hostages were freed in a November truce but Egyptian- and Qatari-mediated efforts to secure another deal appear to have stalled.

As concern mounts in Israel for the wellbeing of the 129 remaining hostages, who cannot be contacted, their families and friends have organised increasingly vocal demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government.

Smoke rises from an Israeli air strike in the Jebaliya refugee camp
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he will continue with the war to dismantle Hamas.

They have dovetailed with activists who have long called for Netanyahu's ouster given his trial on graft charges - which he denies - and his attempts to overhaul the judiciary last year.

"Our country's near the abyss. We've already started to drive down and we must stop it. I'm here to gather the force to tell the people that they need to come out and they need to tell our government that it's time to stop," said Marva Erez, 45, who was among demonstrators in Tel Aviv.

Netanyahu said he will continue with the war to dismantle Hamas, despite alarm in the United States and other allies at the civilian toll in the Gaza Strip, where medical officials say more than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed.

Hamas has said any new hostage deal must bring about an end to the Gaza war and withdrawal of all Israeli forces.

"There will be a (hostage) deal," Culture Minister Miki Zohar, a senior member of Netanyahu's Likud party, told Channel 12 TV. 

"But not at any price."

The anti-government protest in Tel Aviv was held separately to a smaller vigil for the hostages. 

Many of those taking part in the latter event soon merged with the bigger demonstration.

Michael Levy, whose brother Or is among the hostages, said he was protesting because "we have no time for the talks".

"We need actions. We need to get them home," he said.

Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip has killed at least 33,686 Palestinians and wounded 76,309 since October 7, the Palestinian enclave's health ministry said on Saturday.

There have been 52 Palestinians killed and 95 wounded in the past 24 hours, the ministry statement added. 

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