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Protests across Israel as hostage families call for parliament rally

Israelis at protests in Tel Aviv call for the release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza
— Jerusalem (AFP)

Protesters blocked Tel Aviv's ring road Saturday after two demonstrations in Israel's biggest city called for the release of hostages held in Gaza and criticised the government's handling of the war.

Police used water cannon against protesters who lit fires and used lorries to block both carriageways of the motorway.

In Jerusalem, hundreds picketed the home of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanding he resign. Israeli media reported smaller anti-government protests across the country.

Thousands had gathered earlier in Tel Aviv to hear the families of hostages abducted by Hamas militants on October 7 call for a mass rally in front of the country's parliament next week.

Shira Elbag, whose 19-year-old daughter Liri was abducted by Hamas militants during the October 7 attack on Israel, made an emotional plea urging Israelis to pile the pressure on Netanyahu.

"The time has come to go out and fight against indifference and for life," a larger than usual weekly demonstration on the square in Tel Aviv renamed by campaigners Hostages Square.

"I ask you to come out with us into the streets and let us sound one united and clear voice: 'Bring them home now!'"

- Protesters join together -

Israeli police use water cannon on anti-government protesters blocking the Tel Aviv ring road

At the same time anti-government protesters gathered nearby outside the Ministry of Defence, putting the blame for the hostages' fate on Netanyahu, with pictures of his face next to the text: "UR the boss, UR to blame."

Police said the demonstration was illegal and called the protesters "rioters" as they poured onto the ring road, blocking it for more than an hour.

Many of those who took to the streets in support of the hostages' families joined the anti-government protesters, an AFP photographer said.

Hamas militants seized about 250 hostages on October 7, of whom Israel believes 130 remain in Gaza, including 33 who are presumed dead.

Former hostage Raz Ben Ami, who was freed in November after a deal brokered by Qatar and Washington, appealed directly to Netanyahu to speed up talks for the release of the rest.

She told Netanyahu to give negotiators due to meet in Cairo and Doha next week an order: "Do not return without a deal."

Elbag, one of the leaders of the Hostage Families Forum, which represents some of the families, added: "I haven't closed an eye from the thoughts and fear of what Liri and the other hostages are going through. After 176 days, the excuses are over."