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Protests in Israel Mark 9 Months of War With Hamas

Relatives and supporters of Israeli hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip hold baby dolls during a performance marking nine months since the start of the war and calling for their return, in Tel Aviv, Israel, July 7, 2024.
Relatives and supporters of Israeli hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip hold baby dolls during a performance marking nine months since the start of the war and calling for their return, in Tel Aviv, Israel, July 7, 2024.

Israel’s war with Hamas militants reached the nine-month mark Sunday, with Israeli protesters blocking highways across the country, calling for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign and pushing for a cease-fire.

Sunday's "Day of Disruption" started at 6:29 a.m. local time, noting the moment that Hamas militants launched the first rockets toward Israel last October 7, an attack that killed 1,200 people and led to the capture of about 250 hostages.

Protesters blocked main roads and demonstrated outside of the homes of members of Israel's parliament. Near the border with Gaza, Israeli protesters released 1,500 black and yellow balloons to symbolize those who were killed and abducted.

Hannah Golan said she came to protest the "devastating abandonment of our communities by our government." She added, "It's nine months today, to this black day, and still, nobody in our government takes responsibility." Netanyahu has long said any discussion of the country’s massive security failure should occur after fighting ends.

Israel’s subsequent ground and air counteroffensive in Gaza after Hamas’ shock October attack has killed more than 38,000 Palestinians according to the Hamas-run health ministry. Israel says it believes Hamas is still holding 116 hostages, including 42 the military says are dead.

Meanwhile, fighting raged on, with at least nine Palestinians killed in Israeli strikes. An Israeli airstrike killed Ehab Al-Ghussein, the Hamas-appointed deputy minister of labor, and three other people at a church-run school in western Gaza City sheltering Christian and Muslim families, Hamas media and the Civil Emergency Service said.

The Israeli military said it was looking into the report. Ghussein's wife and children had already been killed in an Israeli strike in May.

Israel and Hamas, however, may be inching closer to an elusive cease-fire after Hamas dropped its demand that any deal include a complete end to the war, although both sides said significant gaps remain.

Talks to end the fighting have stalemated for weeks but two Hamas officials said Sunday the Palestinian group is waiting for a response from Israel on its cease-fire proposal, five days after it accepted a key part of a U.S. plan aimed at ending the war.

"We have left our response with the mediators and are waiting to hear the occupation's response," one of the two Hamas officials, speaking anonymously, told the Reuters news agency.

The three-phase cease-fire plan for Gaza was offered in late May by U.S. President Joe Biden and is being mediated by Qatar and Egypt. It aims to end the war and free the remaining hostages. About 100 hostages were freed in a weeklong cease-fire last November in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians jailed by Israel.

Biden’s plan calls for a "full and complete" six-week cease-fire during which older, sick and female hostages would be released in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. During those 42 days, Israeli forces would withdraw from densely populated areas of Gaza and allow the return of displaced people to their homes in northern Gaza, officials have said.

Israel was discussing a halt to the fighting with the Qataris, according to another Palestinian official with knowledge of the cease-fire deliberations.

"They have discussed with them Hamas's response and they promised to give them Israel's response within days," one official told Reuters.

Netanyahu has said that negotiations would continue this week but has not given any detailed timeline.

Hamas says it would allow negotiations to achieve an end to the war but during the talks some of the hostages would be returned to Israel in exchange for more Palestinians jailed by Israel.

A Palestinian official close to the peace efforts has said the proposal could lead to a framework agreement, if embraced by Israel, that would end the war.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns is set to travel to Qatar this week for further negotiations, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Flag-wielding demonstrators stopped traffic at an intersection in Tel Aviv, calling for parliamentary elections and for the government to do more to free the remaining captives in Gaza.

Police stepped up security around Netanyahu's Jerusalem residence before a rally called for Sunday. On Saturday night, anti-government demonstrators blocking a highway clashed with police on horseback before authorities deployed water cannon to clear the road.

Still, some Israelis held out hope for a cease-fire and return of the remaining hostages.

"For the first time, we all feel that we are closer than ever to getting our loved ones back," Sachar Mor, a relative of hostage Ofer Kalderon, told a Saturday rally. "This is an opportunity that cannot be missed."

While fighting continues in Gaza, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah said it launched dozens of projectiles toward northern Israel, targeting areas more than 30 kilometers from the border, deeper than most launches.

A 28-year-old Israeli man was seriously wounded in Kfar Zeitim, a small town near the city of Tiberias, Israel's national rescue service reported.

The barrage came after the Israeli military said in a statement an airstrike targeted a car and killed an engineer in Hezbollah's air defense unit Saturday, which Hezbollah confirmed.

Near-daily clashes between Hezbollah and Israeli forces over the past nine months have threatened to turn into an all-out regional war and have catastrophic consequences for people on both sides of the border.

Some information for this report provided by Agence France-Presse, The Associated Press and Reuters.