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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces the largest protests in Israel since the start of the war in Gaza

Tens of thousands of Israelis marched this Sunday in front of the Parliament building in Jerusalem, in the largest anti-government protest since the country entered war in October against the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The demonstration, which followed a similar one on Saturday night, demanded that the authorities reach an agreement with the Palestinian group Hamas to free dozens of hostages held in Gaza now. call early elections.

The crowd spread for blocks around the Knesset (Israeli parliament) and organizers They promised to continue the protest for several days. They urged the Israeli government to cancel the upcoming parliamentary recess and hold new elections almost two years earlier than planned.

In a nationally televised speech Sunday before undergoing surgery for a hernia, Netanyahu said he understood the pain of the hostages’ families. “I will do everything possible to bring the hostages home,” he said..

He noted that calling new elections – in what he described as a moment before victory – would paralyze Israel for six to eight months and suspend hostage negotiations.

Captives.The release of the Hamas hostages in Gaza is one of the main demands of the population (AFP).

Netanyahu’s coalition government, made up of influential far-right parties, appears to remain firmly intact, and even if he is overthrown, his main rival, Benny Gantz, is a member of the war cabinet and will likely continue many of his policies.

Netanyahu also reiterated his promise of a ground military offensive in Rafah, the southern Gaza city where Israel says the remaining Hamas battalions are located. More than half of the territory’s 2.3 million inhabitants now take refuge there after fleeing fighting elsewhere.

“There is no victory without entering Rafah,” the premier said, adding that US pressure will not deter him. Allies and humanitarian groups have warned of a catastrophe with a ground offensive in that area of ​​the enclave.

Israeli society came together immediately after October 7, when Hamas killed about 1,200 people during a cross-border attack and took another 250 hostage. Nearly six months of conflict have renewed divisions, although the country remains largely in favor from the war.

Message.  Prime Minister Netanyahu once again promised that his government will bring the hostages back (EFE)Message. Prime Minister Netanyahu once again promised that his government will bring the hostages back (EFE)

About half of the hostages were released during a week-long ceasefire in November, but repeated attempts by international mediators to negotiate another ceasefire agreement have failed.

Netanyahu has vowed to destroy Hamas and bring all hostages home. But the Palestinian terrorist group, even with heavy losses, remains standing while the families of the hostages believe that time is running out.

Another issue that worries the government is growing Israeli opposition to military exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox. Last night, in another reminder of Israel’s divisions, a group of reservists and retired officers demonstrated in a neighborhood in that religious sector.

Protest.  Groups of protesters lit bonfires during this Sunday's march in Jerusalem (AFP). Protest. Groups of protesters lit bonfires during this Sunday’s march in Jerusalem (AFP).

For generations, the ultra-Orthodox have received exemptions from military service, which is mandatory for most Jewish men and women. Resentment over this has deepened during the war. Netanyahu’s government has been ordered to present a new plan for a more equitable bill this Monday.

Netanyahu, whose continuity in government depends largely on the support of ultra-Orthodox parties, asked for an extension last week.

“It is necessary to promote equality. This can be done with hammers, but it won’t work,” he asserted. The prime minister faces several legal cases with accusations of corruption and a growing negative international image that harms the country.

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