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Israeli protesters block highways, demand ceasefire to retrieve hostages as war marks 9 months

Israeli protesters blocked highways across the country on Sunday, nine months after the war in Gaza began, demanding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu step down and insisting on a ceasefire to allow the release of hostages held by Hamas.

The protests come as international mediators have launched fresh efforts to reach a settlement. Egyptian and Hamas officials told The Associated Press that over the weekend Hamas dropped a key demand for an Israeli commitment to end the war.

The war, launched by a Palestinian militant group following a cross-border attack on October 7, has killed 1,200 people and taken 250 others hostage. More than 38,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli air and ground attacks, according to the region's health ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count.

Sunday's “Day of Disruption” began at 6:29 a.m., the moment Hamas militants fired the first rocket toward Israel in October. Protesters blocked main roads and demonstrated outside the homes of members of Israel's parliament.

Near the Gaza border, Israeli protesters released 1,500 black and yellow balloons to symbolize those killed and kidnapped.

Hanna Golan said she came to protest “the terrible abandonment of our communities by our government.” She added: “It is nine months since this dark day, and still no one in our government takes responsibility for it.”

About 120 hostages remain in captivity, despite the release of more than 100 hostages under a ceasefire deal in November. Israel has already concluded that more than 40 of the remaining hostages are dead, and it fears the number could rise as the war continues.

The Israeli prime minister had earlier said that although he was willing to stop the fighting under the hostage deal, Israel would maintain pressure until it reached its goal of destroying Hamas' military and governance capabilities and repatriating all those held hostage by Hamas.

Meanwhile, fighting continued in Gaza, and nine Palestinians were reported killed in Israeli attacks overnight and early Sunday.

Six Palestinians were killed in an attack on a house in the town of Zawaida in central Gaza, according to Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital. Another Israeli airstrike on Sunday morning targeted a house west of Gaza City, killing 3 more people, the Strip's Hamas-affiliated civil defense said.

At least 16 people were killed and at least 50 others injured in an Israeli airstrike on a school in the Nuseirat refugee camp, the Gaza health ministry said on Saturday. The Israeli military said they were targeting Hamas militants and had taken “numerous steps” to minimise civilian casualties.

On Sunday morning, Lebanese militant group Hezbollah said it fired dozens of missiles toward northern Israel, targeting areas more than 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the border, at a depth greater than the range of most missiles.

A 28-year-old Israeli man was seriously injured in Kfar Zeitim, a small town near the city of Tiberias, Israel's National Rescue Service said.

The attack came after the Israeli military said in a statement that an airstrike targeting a car on Saturday killed an engineer from Hezbollah's air defense unit. Hezbollah confirmed al-Attar's death but did not provide information about his condition.

Nearly daily clashes between Hezbollah and Israeli forces over the past nine months threaten to spill over into a wider regional war, with catastrophic consequences for people on both sides of the border.

Mediators from the United States, Egypt and Qatar have stepped up their efforts over the past week to reach a deal.

The agreement reached by Hamas on Saturday could bring a pause in fighting for the first time since November and set the stage for further talks, though all sides still warn that an agreement is not yet guaranteed.

Washington's phased deal would begin with a six-week “complete and total” ceasefire during which elderly, 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 displaced people to return to their homes in northern Gaza, officials said.

War-weary Palestinians in the Gaza Strip appeared pessimistic about the prospect of a ceasefire, as the Israel-Hamas war marked nine months on Sunday.

“We have suffered for nine months,” displaced Palestinian woman Heba Radi told the AP. “A ceasefire has become a distant dream.”

The mother of six spoke from her tent in the central city of Deir al-Balah, where she took refuge after fleeing her home in Gaza City.

“Every day we tell ourselves that tomorrow (there will be a ceasefire) and tomorrow will be better. And when tomorrow comes, they say (the talks) have been postponed,” he said.

Zakia Hassanein, an 80-year-old Palestinian woman who has also taken refuge in Deir al-Balah, appealed to Netanyahu and Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh to agree to a ceasefire, saying they were “living like the dead.”

The Israel-Hamas war has caused widespread damage in Gaza. Israeli sanctions, ongoing fighting and a breakdown of law and order have hampered humanitarian aid efforts, raising fears of widespread hunger and famine. The UN's top court has concluded that there is an “imminent risk of genocide” in Gaza – a charge Israel strongly denies.


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