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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

After 9 months of war, Israelis call for a cease-fire deal and elections

By Isabel Kershner New York Times

JERUSALEM – Israelis on Sunday marked nine months since the devastating Hamas-led attack of Oct. 7 and the start of the ensuing war in the Gaza Strip with a nationwide day of anti-government protests at a time that many here view as a pivotal juncture in the conflict.

Primarily calling for a cease-fire deal with Hamas that would see hostages return from captivity and for new elections in Israel, protesters brought traffic to a standstill at several major intersections in cities and on highways across the country. Much of central Tel Aviv was blocked in one of the biggest protests in months.

Some progress has been made in recent days for a resumption of negotiations toward a tentative deal after weeks of an impasse, even as the fighting continues in Gaza, where an Israeli strike hit in the area of a U.N. school Saturday, and across Israel’s northern border with Lebanon.

But many Israelis, among them the families of some of the hostages, fear that the cease-fire efforts could be torpedoed not only by Hamas but also by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel who, they say, might prioritize the survival of his government over a deal that could topple it.

The leaders of two ultranationalist parties who are key elements of Netanyahu’s coalition have threatened to bring the government down if the prime minister agrees to a deal before Hamas is fully destroyed – a goal that many officials and experts consider unattainable.

The far-right parties in the governing coalition “don’t want a deal,” Shikma Bressler, a protest leader, said in a social media post early Sunday, adding, “They need Armageddon.

“And Bibi?” Bressler added, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname. “He needs war so there won’t be elections.”

Tensions over the potential deal also surfaced within Netanyahu’s own Likud party at the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday. After the prime minister accused the defense minister, Yoav Gallant, a rival, of playing politics, Gallant retorted by warning Netanyahu against any “politically driven attempt” to tie a hostage deal to other contentious issues dividing the government, according to Gallant’s office.

“This is a delicate hour,” Gallant said. “We must strike an agreement to secure the release of the hostages.”

Israel’s northern border remained volatile Sunday, with the Lebanese Hezbollah organization firing salvos of rockets, drones and anti-tank missiles into Israeli territory. In an unusual incident, a private U.S. citizen was injured in one of the strikes from Lebanon, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

The spokesperson said the person does not work for the U.S. government but could provide no further details, citing privacy concerns. An Israeli soldier was also lightly injured, according to the Israeli military.

The rockets from Lebanon came a day after Israeli aircraft carried out a deadly strike against a Hezbollah operative in the area of Baalbek, deep inside Lebanese territory, about 40 miles northeast of Beirut.

Israel identified the target as Meitham Mustafa Altaar, describing him as a key operative in Hezbollah’s Aerial Defense Unit who had taken part in several attacks against Israel.

Another man believed to be an Israeli was seriously injured in a strike from Lebanon on Sunday that reached deeper into Israel than most of the previous attacks in months of tit-for-tat cross-border clashes.

In central Gaza on Saturday, Israeli aircraft struck in the area of a U.N. school in Nuseirat, where the Israeli military said Palestinian militants had been operating out of a number of structures. At least 16 people were killed and dozens wounded in the strike, according to the Gaza health ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. More than 38,000 Palestinians have been killed so far in Gaza, according to local health officials.

The school had become a shelter for displaced people seeking safety, the ministry added. Hamas, in a statement, called the strike a “massacre.” The Israeli military said it had taken measures to avoid civilian casualties in the strike and blamed Hamas for operating from areas crowded with civilians.

On Sunday, the Israeli military said its air force struck another complex in the vicinity of a school building in Gaza City where fighters were operating, as well as a Hamas weapons manufacturing facility in the same area.

The military said it was continuing its operations in Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza, and in Shajaiye, an area ll n of Gaza City, in the north. The air force also carried out a strike against the municipality building in Khan Younis, a large southern city from which Israeli ground forces withdrew in April.

Hamas was using the building, the military said, for military activities. Before the strike, the military said, the civilian population was evacuated from the area.

At a protest calling for the release of the hostages in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, a weekly occurrence, Einav Zangauker, whose son Matan is being held hostage in Gaza, said of the renewed talks for a cease-fire, “For the first time in many months, we feel hope.”

But she added: “Netanyahu, we’ve seen how time and again you’ve torpedoed deals at the moment of truth. Our heart was shattered each time. Don’t dare break our heart again! It is your duty to return all of the citizens you forsook.”

Many Israelis are enraged over Netanyahu’s refusal so far to take any personal responsibility for the Israeli intelligence and policy failures leading up to the Oct. 7 terrorist assault, in which 1,200 people were killed, according to Israeli authorities, and about 250 more were taken into Gaza. Of the 120 hostages remaining in Gaza, at least a third are presumed dead, officials say.

The protests Sunday, which the organizers called a national “Day of Disturbance,” began at 6:29 a.m. – the time the Hamas-led attack began Oct. 7 – with “wake-up calls” outside the homes of several lawmakers and ministers, including Gallant.

Several tech companies allowed their staff time off to participate in the protests, which were expected to culminate in large rallies in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem later in the day. Sunday is a workday for most Israelis.

Despite recent progress in indirect contacts between Israel and Hamas, via U.S. and Arab mediators, sticking points remain, and a cease-fire deal is not considered imminent.

The talks are based on a three-stage framework first publicized by President Joe Biden in late May and later endorsed by the U.N. Security Council.

Both sides agree on the broad outlines of a deal that would include an initial six-week cease-fire and the release of the most vulnerable civilian hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. But Hamas is seeking assurances that Israel won’t restart the war after some hostages come home. Israel says it needs the option of resuming hostilities and will not effectively commit to a permanent cease-fire from the outset.

Netanyahu’s office issued a statement Sunday evening saying the prime minister remains “steadfastly committed” to the principles already agreed upon by Israel and endorsed by Biden, including that any deal must allow Israel to resume fighting until it has achieved “all of the war’s goals.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.