'Biden is our only hope': Thousands of Israelis urge hostage deal

Israeli demonstrators wave the Stars and Stripes alongside the national flag as they press the hard-right government not to disavow a ceasefire plan set out by President Joe Biden (AHMAD GHARABLI)
Israeli demonstrators wave the Stars and Stripes alongside the national flag as they press the hard-right government not to disavow a ceasefire plan set out by President Joe Biden (AHMAD GHARABLI)

Thousands of Israelis rallied in Tel Aviv Saturday to demand acceptance of a ceasefire and hostage release deal outlined by US President Joe Biden, with many fearing the premier would disown the proposal.

Israeli and US flags dotted the crowd in the central plaza they have dubbed Hostages Square, alongside banners urging: "Bring them home!"

"Biden is our only hope," protester Abigail Zur, 34, told AFP.

The US president said on Friday that Israel was offering a new three-stage roadmap towards a full ceasefire, including the release of hostages held by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

Demonstrators told AFP they were worried that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would disown the deal.

"Biden cares about our hostages more than Netanyahu does," said a protester in her early fifties who gave her name only as Karen, as others chanted: "Now, Now".

Protesters were seen carrying a large banner that read: "Biden, save them from Netanyahu."

Netanyahu was more concerned about his own political future, said protester Diti Kapuano, 46.

"I hope that somehow Biden puts enough pressure so the government and Netanyahu will take the deal," she said.

Campaign group the Hostages and Missing Families Forum said in a statement: "In light of President Biden's speech last night, we will demand that the Israeli government immediately approve the (hostage release deal) and bring all the hostages home at once.

"We will also call on all government ministers and coalition members to publicly commit to supporting the deal and not to allow the possibility of torpedoing it and endangering the hostages," the group said, adding that it had contacted various embassies to urge them to support the plan.

- Pressure on Netanyahu -

Netanyahu insisted on Saturday that the plan laid out by Biden did not preclude fighting on until Hamas's ability to rule Gaza and pose a threat to Israel had been destroyed.

Hamas said it viewed the plan "positively".

In recent weeks, Netanyahu has been under pressure to reach a deal to secure the release of the hostages, with the last round of negotiations in Cairo last month failing to make any headway.

Pressure further increased after Israeli troops retrieved the bodies of seven hostages from the Gaza Strip last month.

Netanyahu is also under pressure from his far-right coalition partners who have threatened to bring down the government if the war ends without the destruction of Hamas.

But protesters said there has to be a deal to bring the hostages home.

"We have to have a deal. It's the moral thing to do. We've got to get them back," said Glick Gilad, 51, holding a US flag at a separate, anti-government protest in Tel Aviv.

"We are strong enough to take care of the war later. First, bring them home."

The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack, which resulted in the deaths of 1,189 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 36,379 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

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