Israelis Begin Four-Day March Calling for Hostage Release

Hamas and Israeli officials remain at odds over ongoing cease-fire talks.

Families and supporters of Israeli hostages held in Gaza hold signs in a march toward Jerusalem.
Families and supporters of Israeli hostages held in Gaza hold signs in a march toward Jerusalem.

Families and supporters of Israeli hostages held captive by Hamas in Gaza set out on a four-day march to Jerusalem on Wednesday to call for the release of their loved ones. The demonstration began near the site of Hamas’s Nova music festival massacre and is set to end near Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence. This is the second march organized by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum.

Hamas is holding an estimated 99 Israelis captive in Gaza, while another 31 are believed to be dead. Their release is part of ongoing cease-fire negotiations between Israel and Hamas in Doha, Qatar, this week, an effort led by U.S., Egyptian, and Qatari mediators. If agreed to, the current framework would establish a six-week pause in fighting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to begin on March 10, and would include the release of 35 to 40 Israeli hostages in exchange for around 400 Palestinian prisoners—or roughly 10 prisoners per 1 captive.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Wednesday that he hopes a deal can be reached in “the next few days,” and U.S. President Joe Biden suggested in comments published on Tuesday that a cease-fire could begin as early as next Monday. But other key negotiators have distanced themselves from the fast-approaching timeline. Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh touted the group’s flexibility on Wednesday but warned Israel and the United States that “what they have failed to impose on the battlefield they will not take through political machinations.” He called on Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank to march to Al-Aqsa Mosque when Ramadan begins to protest the war in Gaza.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, continues to advocate “total victory” over the militant group, saying last Sunday that a six-week truce would only delay Israel’s planned ground offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where roughly 1.4 million Palestinians are sheltering.

Nearly 30,000 Palestinians have been killed since war broke out on Oct. 7, 2023, and up to 96 percent of Gaza’s agricultural infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed, according to a new World Bank report. Washington announced on Tuesday that it plans to provide $53 million in aid to support humanitarian organizations working in Gaza and the West Bank, bringing total U.S. aid for Gaza to $180 million since the conflict began. This latest batch, which would include funding for the World Food Program, is part of the United States’ push for a cease-fire, U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said.

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