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

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.

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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.

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