An estimated 30,000 people marched on the streets of Jerusalem Saturday to demand the government do more to address the Hamas hostage crisis – as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said all members of the terror group are “dead men walking.”
Netanyahu spoke at a news conference Saturday night in Israel after the moving demonstration came to a defiant halt outside his office in the holy, ancient city.
The swelling crowd, which began marching five days ago, was buoyed by the loved ones of the hostages, most of whom carried signs with their missing relative’s pictures on them.
‘We will walk to Gaza’
Many of the grieving family members expressed frustration with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the government’s failure to bring their loved ones home.
“The journey is not over. Forty-three days is too long. We will continue in every possible way until each one of them is home,” organizer Yuval Haran, whose family members were abducted during Hamas’ Oct. 7 sneak attack, told Haaretz of the effort.
“I returned tonight from the USA, we had a meeting with Jake Sullivan. I don’t understand how it can be that the national security adviser in the US has time to meet with us – but the defense minister in Israel does not,” the father of Itay Chen, a 19-year-old soldier who is believed to have been kidnapped by the terror group, told Israel’s N12.
The demonstrators called on the War Cabinet to meet with the families on Saturday night.
“You are responsible for returning them now, meet us and stop letting us beg — it doesn’t make sense,” Kobi Ben Ami, the brother of hostage Ohad Ben Ami, told N12.
“If there is a deal on the table – they are expected to look us in the eye and inform us what is going to happen. They have already abandoned us once and we are not ready to be abandoned a second time,” he insisted.
“We are not to blame and we do not deserve to be informed by the media or Telegram about all kinds of transactions. It is appropriate that we hear from the decision makers what they intend to do with our loved ones.”
Some of the relatives even proposed taking matters into their own hands.
“We’ve been walking for five days without stopping and my legs hurt and my shoulders and everything hurts, but nothing hurts like my heart does, which really really hurts” said Orin, the mother of hostage Eden Zacharia, according to the Times of Israel.
“Even if we need to walk to Gaza we will walk to Gaza. Wherever we need to go we will go, we won’t give up on our children,” she added.
At one point, Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid was spotted joining the protest, the Independent Press shared in a video on X.
Lapid has been critical of Netanyahu’s approach to the Israel-Hamas conflict, and even called on him this week to step down “immediately,” the outlet noted.
Later on Saturday, a spokesperson for Hamas’ armed faction said the terror group no longer knows the current fate of all the hostages because it lost contact with some of the groups tasked with guarding them.
“We have lost contact with a number of groups charged with protecting enemy prisoners, and the fate of the prisoners and captives is still unknown,” Al-Qassam Brigades spokesperson Abu Obaida claimed in a video address.
Hamas is also prepared to release 70 hostages in exchange for a five-day truce, he added.
Late Saturday local time, however, an unnamed Israeli source said negotiations on the hostages had stalled, the Times of Israel reported.
At a news conference Saturday night, Netanyahu insisted “there has not been a hostage release deal.”
“When there is something to say, we will update you.”
The Israel Defense Forces are investigating reports of several deaths at the UN-run Al-Fakhoura school in the Jabalia refugee camp on Saturday, the BBC reported.
“I can’t confirm this incident is IDF, but we are seeing the images like you on social media. We are looking into it,” IDF spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner told the outlet of the allegations from officials in Hamas-controlled Gaza that Israeli forces fired on the facility, which was housing displaced families.
The UN Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, said Saturday it received “horrifying” images of an attack on the school.
“These attacks cannot become commonplace, they must stop. A humanitarian ceasefire cannot wait any longer,” UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini wrote on X.
Footage captured by Palestinian videographer Belal Khaled and shared on X by journalist Anya Parampil purportedly showed the rubble-strewn buildings scattered with bodies amid the sound of sirens and crying children.
The footage was later confirmed to have been taken at the Al-Fakhoura school by BBC Verify.
Shortly after reports of the alleged attack, the IDF shared it was “continuing and expanding” its operation in the Gaza Strip.
“Over the past day, our forces conducted activities in the Zaytun and Jabaliya areas, during which they encountered terrorists who intentionally operated from civilian areas and attacked the troops using anti-tank missiles and explosives,” the military posted on X.
“Our troops eliminated numerous terrorists and struck a large number of terrorist infrastructure.”
The IDF also reported to have struck several Hezbollah sites in southern Lebanon in retaliation for attacks on northern Israel.
Hospital in chaos
While officials continued to probe the condition of the Al-Fakhoura school, chaos reigned in Gaza City as hundreds of patients and sheltering families fled the Al-Shifa hospital on foot in a mass evacuation attempt.
Six doctors, however, stayed behind to care for the 120 patients who were too vulnerable to move.
“Most of the medical staff had left Al Shifa hospital, as the Israeli occupation army ordered everyone to evacuate the hospital. Many patients can not leave the hospital as they are in the ICU beds or the baby incubators,” facilities Head of Plastic Surgery Ahmed El Mokhallalati wrote on X Saturday.
“I along with 5 other doctors, will stay at Alshifa hospital with 120 patients (as patients can not leave due to their health conditions).”
The physician called on the World Health Organization, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to “take action to protect the medical staff and patients at Al Shifa hospital.”
The Israeli army previously denied ordering the evacuation, though hundreds of people fled on foot Saturday morning, according to those at the scene, CNN reported.
The exact reason for the sudden deluge is still unclear. The hospital became a serious battle site on Wednesday, when Israeli troops raided the facility as part of their operation against the Hamas terror group.
Evacuating the facility in a war zone is “an extremely complex and logistically challenging operation,: ICRC spokesperson Ala’a Nayel told CNN Saturday.
“It is heartbreaking to see the most vulnerable bear the brunt of the conflict,” Nayel said.
When asked about the sudden evacuation of the Al-Shifa hospital Lieutenant Colonel Lerner told the BBC the IDF has “been encouraging people to leave for several weeks” and has been coordinating departures Saturday morning.
“It is a huge challenge for any professional military operating in such a hostile environment where terrorists use tunnels to come out and launch RPGs – and they do it from places like hospitals, schools, mosques, wherever they can take advantage of the humanitarian and civilian arena,” he insisted.
On Saturday evening local time, the IDF posted on X that it had provided the hospital with “fuel, incubators, baby food, medicine, food and water.”
“These definitely weren’t provided by Hamas—the ruling authority in Gaza,” the post read.
In the southern Gaza city of Rafah, Israeli military fliers were seen scattered throughout the sky, photos showed.
Up to 64 possible casualties in Khan Yunis
It is unclear what the content of the fliers was, and if they featured evacuation orders.
In addition to the controversy over the refugee camp school and the Al-Shifa facility, the death toll from the IDF’s strikes on Khan Yunis in southern Gaza early Saturday has rose from 32 to 64, Haaretz reported, citing medical sources in Gaza.
The outlet did not specify whether or not the sources were affiliated with Hamas-controlled organizations.
Initial reports said that 26 people were killed when the strikes hit a residential block, and an additional six perished moments later when a house was bombed in Deir Al-Balah.
The area’s streets were lined with shrouded bodies throughout the day as mourning relatives paid their respects, photos obtained by NBC News showed.
Poll reveals thoughts on settlement
As the Israel-Hamas war raged through its 44th day, a poll released by Israel’s N12 showed an uptick in national support for Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip after the conflict’s resolution.
Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, a move that saw about 8,000 Jews leave their homes in 21 settlements, the Times of Israel noted.
When asked what should happen in the Gaza Strip following the war, 32 percent of respondents said “Israel should remain permanently and renew Jewish settlement,” the poll revealed.
Another 30 percent said the area should be governed by an “international trusteeship,” while 14 percent replied that Israel should maintain a military presence there.
Only 10 percent said the Gaza Strip should be put in the hands of the Palestinian Authority, and another 14 percent said they did not know or have an opinion.
Perhaps surprisingly, 53 percent of those polled said their opinion had not changed since the war started, though 36 percent said the recent events made them more right-wing.
When asked to make a direct choice between supporting renewed Jewish settlement and Gaza or not, 44 percent of respondents were in favor and 39 percent were against it – though these results were not shown on the news channel, the Times of Israel explained.
US official casts doubt on ceasefire
President Joe Biden’s main advisor on the Middle East, Brett McGurk, cast doubt on the possibility of a ceasefire or increased humanitarian aid in Gaza at a security conference in Bahrain Saturday.
“The surge in humanitarian relief, the surge in fuel, the pause… will come when hostages are released,” McGurk, 50, said, per the Times of Israel.
The release of many of the estimated 240 hostages would lead to “a significant pause… and a massive surge of humanitarian relief,” the diplomat explained.
Biden discussed the possibility of such a scenario with the ruler of Qatar, which is spearheading the mediation efforts, on Friday night, McGurk added.
Netanyahu seemed to echo McGurk’s stance later on Saturday, when he insisted that the iDF will “keep fighting until Hamas is destroyed.”
The embattled prime minister also noted that a total lack of humanitarian aid into Gaza would threaten international support for Israel’s bombardment of the region.