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Anti-government protests demand release of Gaza hostages ahead of Israel’s Memorial Day

Protesters took to the streets of several cities across Israel on Saturday, demanding the release of all hostages held in Gaza ahead of Israel’s Memorial Day.

They demanded the resignation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and for early elections to be held.

Families of hostages held in Gaza also took part in anti-government protests, including in Tel Aviv, Caesarea, Rehovot, and Haifa.

The protests come as Israel gears up to mark Memorial Day starting Sunday evening.

Many waved Israeli flags and held up signs with images of the Israeli hostages, calling on the government to bring them home alive.

Around 240 people were taken hostage and moved to Gaza during Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel that also killed more than 1,200 people. A little more than 100 were freed during a release deal in November, but the Israel Defense Forces believes there are still 132 hostages being held in Gaza, 128 of whom were taken on October 7. The believes that, of those 128, only 92 are still alive.

Among those at the protests Saturday was Yael Adar, the mother of Tamir Adar, who was abducted on October 7 and whose death was announced in January. She said all she wanted was to bring back the body of her son so she could hold a proper burial.

“For 90 days, we fought for his return alive, 90 days of hoping that Tamir would return to us, to the bosom of the family – a hope that vanished with the news that he was no longer alive,” Adar said during a rally.

“Since then, all we ask is to bring Tamir and all the murdered hostages back for burial, here in the land they loved. To grant Tamir the burial he deserves. To grant us closure, to have a grave where we can be with his memory,” she added.

Hagit Chen, mother of Itay Chen, who was killed on October 7 and whose remains were taken into Gaza, said she wanted to bury her son in peace.

“I have been invited to take part in many ceremonies for Israel’s Remembrance Day, but the only ceremony that I ought to be in, with my family and with the memory of my own son, is a ceremony that the country has not enabled me to have,” Chen said.

“How much more suffering can one take? I turn to the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu: It is time that you bring them all back! The living for rehabilitation and the fallen for a respectful, appropriate Jewish burial,” she added.

Hostage died a month ago, Hamas says

The protests came as the Al Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, claimed that one of the Israeli hostages held in Gaza died more than a month ago.

Abu Obaida, the military wing’s spokesperson, said on Telegram that Nadav Popplewell, who was 51 years old when abducted, had died of wounds he sustained after an Israeli airstrike hit the place where he was held.

“His health condition deteriorated and he died because he did not receive intensive medical care,” Obaida said.

Popplewell, who has dual British-Israeli citizenship, was kidnapped from Kibbutz Nirim on October 7, 2023. His mother, Channah Peri, was also abducted but was released as part of the hostage deal on November 24. His brother Roi was killed on October 7.

The United Kingdom’s Foreign Office said it is seeking more information about Popplewell.

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