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Demanding release of relatives, Israeli families march on parliament in Jerusalem

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

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The action by about 20 people on Monday 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 October 7 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 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 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.

“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 October 7 attack.

Political rifts were set aside as Israelis rallied together, but with the war in Gaza in its fourth month and opinion polls showing lagging support for 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 on Monday, parliamentary ushers, often quick to eject hecklers or protesters, initially tried to block the families but then stood by during the ruckus in the finance committee.

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

“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.”

On Monday, Netanyahu told hostage families that Hamas had made no solid offer that would see their loved ones freed, a day after he rejected conditions presented by Hamas to end the war and release hostages that would include Israel’s co

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