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Israeli protesters block highways, call for cease-fire to bring back hostages as war marks 9 months

Marking nine months since the war in Gaza started, Israeli protesters blocked highways across the country Sunday, calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to step down and pushing for a cease-fire that could bring back the hostages held by Hamas.

The demonstrations come as international mediators have renewed efforts to broker a deal. Hamas over the weekend appeared to have dropped a key demand for an Israeli commitment to end the war, according to Egyptian and Hamas officials who spoke to The Associated Press.

The war, triggered by the Palestinian militant group following a cross-border attack on Oct. 7, saw 1,200 people killed and 250 others taken hostage. A retaliatory Israeli air and ground offensive has killed over 38,000 Palestinians, according to the territory’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count.

Sunday’s “Day of Disruption” started at 6:29 AM, the moment that Hamas militants launched the first rockets toward Israel in October. Protesters blocked main roads and demonstrated outside of the homes of members of Israel’s parliament.

Near the border with Gaza, Israeli protestors released 1,500 black and yellow balloons to symbolize those who were killed and abducted.

Hannah Golan said she came to protest the “devastating abandonment of our communities by our government.” She added: “It’s nine months today, to this black day, and still nobody in our government takes responsibility.”

About 120 hostages remain captive after more than 100 hostages were released as part of a November cease-fire deal. Israel has already concluded that more than 40 of the remaining hostages are dead, and fears spread the number may grow as the war drags on.

The Israeli prime minister had previously said while he was open to pausing the war as part of a hostage deal, Israel would press on until it reached its goals of destroying Hamas’ military and governing capabilities and bringing home all those held captive by Hamas.

Meanwhile, fighting in Gaza continued, with nine Palestinians reported dead from Israeli strikes overnight and into the early hours of Sunday.

Six Palestinians were killed in central Gaza after a strike hit a house in the town of Zawaida, according to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital. Another Israeli airstrike early Sunday hit a house west of Gaza City, killing another 3 people, the strip’s Hamas-linked civil defense said.

The Gaza Health Ministry said Saturday an Israeli airstrike killed at least 16 people and wounded at least 50 others in a school-turned-shelter in the Nuseirat refugee camp. The Israeli military said they were targeting Hamas militants and had taken “numerous steps” to reduce civilian casualties.

Also Sunday morning, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah said it launched dozens of projectiles toward northern Israel in the north, targeting areas more than 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the border, deeper than most launches.

A 28-year-old Israeli man was seriously wounded in Kfar Zeitim, a small town near the city of Tiberias, Israel’s national rescue service reported.

The barrage came after the Israeli military said in a statement an airstrike targeted a car and killed an engineer in Hezbollah’s air defense unit Saturday. Hezbollah confirmed al-Attar’s death but did not give information on his position.

Near-daily clashes between Hezbollah and Israeli forces over the past nine months have threatened to turn into an all-out regional war and have catastrophic consequences for people on both sides of the border.

Mediators from the United States, Egypt and Qatar have intensified their efforts in the past week to reach an agreement.

The compromise on Saturday by Hamas could deliver the first pause in fighting since November and set the stage for further talks, though all sides still warned that a deal is not yet guaranteed.

Washington’s phased deal would start with a “full and complete” six-week cease-fire during which older, 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 the return of displaced people to their homes in northern Gaza, the officials said.

War-weary Palestinians in the Gaza Strip appeared pessimistic about the possibility of reaching a cease-fire as the Israel-Hamas war marked nine months on Sunday.

“We have lived nine months of suffering,” Heba Radi, a displaced Palestinian woman, told the AP. “The cease-fire has become a distant dream,”

The mother of six children spoke from her tent in the central city of Deir al-Balah where she sheltered after they fled their home in Gaza City.

“Every day, we tell ourselves tomorrow (there will be a cease-fire),” she said, “and tomorrow will be better. And when tomorrow comes, they say (the negotiations) were postponed.”

Zakia Hasanein is an 80-year-old Palestinian woman, who also sheltered in Deir al-Balah, appealed to Netanyahu and Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh to agree on a cease-fire, saying they “lived like the dead.”

The Israel-Hamas war has caused widespread damage in Gaza. Israeli restrictions, ongoing fighting and the breakdown of law and order have curtailed humanitarian aid efforts, causing widespread hunger and sparking fears of famine. The top U.N. court has concluded there is a “plausible risk of genocide” in Gaza — a charge Israel strongly denies.

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Israeli protesters block highways, call for cease-fire to bring back hostages as war marks 9 months

Marking nine months since the war in Gaza started, Israeli protesters blocked highways across the country Sunday, calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu...