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Relatives of hostages storm Israeli parliament panel

A group of relatives of Israelis held hostage by Palestinian gunmen in Gaza stormed a parliamentary committee session in Jerusalem, demanding that the lawmakers do more to try to free their loved ones.

The action by about 20 people signalled growing domestic dissent in the fourth month of the Gaza war against Hamas.

One woman held up pictures of three family members who were among the 253 people seized in the cross-border Hamas rampage of 7 October that triggered the worst fighting in decades.

Some 130 remain in captivity after others were brought home in a November truce.

“Just one I’d like to get back alive, one out of three!” the woman protester cried after pushing into the Knesset Finance Committee discussion.

Other protesters, clad in black T-shirts, held up signs reading: “You will not sit here while they die there.”

“Release them now, now, now!” they chanted.

US, Qatari and Egyptian efforts to mediate another release seem far from reconciling Israel’s drive to destroy Hamas and Hamas’ demand that Israel withdraw and free all of the thousands of Palestinians – including senior militants – from its prisons.

The fate of the hostages – 27 of whom Israel says have died in Gaza – has riveted the country. But the relatives fear that war fatigue could soften that focus.

Demonstrations that initially promoted national unity have become more aggressive.

Families and supporters have also started camping outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coastal home as well as the Knesset building.

Some protestors are camping near Mr Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem

“We will not leave him until the hostages are back,” said Eli Stivi, whose son Idan is being held in Gaza.

Regular weekend rallies demanding the hostages be released have in recent weeks been reinforced by demonstrations calling for an election that might topple the hard-right government.

Anti-government protests that shook the nation in 2023 ceased after the Hamas 7 October attack.

Political rifts were set aside as Israelis rallied behind the military and the families of those killed or taken hostage.

But with the devastating war in Gaza in its fourth month and opinion polls showing lagging support for Mr Netanyahu, calls for leadership changes are growing stronger.

On Saturday night, thousands protested in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem, calling for an election.

In the Knesset today, parliamentary ushers, often quick to eject hecklers or protesters, stood by during the ruckus in the Knesset Finance Committee. One lawmaker covered her face with her hands.

Panel chairman Moshe Gafni, head of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish party in Mr Netanyahu’s coalition, stood up, called a halt to the economic briefing under way and sought to calm the protester.

“Redeeming captives is the most important precept in Judaism, especially in this case, where there is an urgency to preserving life,” he said, but added: “Quitting the coalition would not achieve anything.”

Yesterday Mr Netanyahu rejected conditions presented by Hamas to end the war and release hostages that would include Israel’s complete withdrawal and leaving Hamas in power in Gaza.

Following that, the Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum demanded that Netanyahu “clearly state that we will not abandon civilians, soldiers, and others kidnapped in the October debacle.”

“If the prime minister decides to sacrifice the hostages, he should show leadership and honestly share his position with the Israeli public,” it said in a statement.

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