Israel opposition chief Yair Lapid condemns police violence at protest by hostage families

Pressure has mounted on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to strike a deal to free hostages taken by Hamas

Clashes were reported between Israeli police and anti-government protesters in Tel Aviv on Sunday. Reuters
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Outrage grew in Israel on Sunday after police assaulted protesters in Tel Aviv who were demanding faster government action to secure the release of Israeli hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza.

Videos showed a policeman beating one of the demonstrators with a baton at the protest on Saturday. Eighteen people were arrested at Saturday's protest, while there was a smaller protest in Jerusalem.

Yair Lapid, the former Israeli prime minister who is now opposition leader, criticised the police crackdown.

“The police violence this evening toward protesters, among them the families of hostages, is dangerous, antidemocratic and cannot continue,” he said.

“The right to protest is a fundamental right, and it cannot be taken from protesters with batons and water cannon.”

Pressure has mounted on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to strike a deal to free the hostages, with thousands gathering in Tel Aviv Saturday at what has come to be known as “Hostages Square” to demand swifter action.

“We think about them [the hostages] all the time and want them back alive as soon as possible,” said Orna Tal, whose close friend Tsachi Idan was kidnapped from the Nahal Oz kibbutz.

“We'll protest again and again until they're back,” she told AFP.

Families of the hostages have followed the fits and starts of the negotiations with hope and anguish and protests have been a regular occurrence since the war erupted on October 7, following Hamas-led raid into southern Israel that killed about 1,200 people.

The Palestinian militant group and its allies seized about 240 hostages.

About 130 are thought to remain in Gaza, following a deal to secure the release of some in exchange for a short truce in November last year, and the release of 240 Palestinian prisoners.

Talks have made little progress, hampered in part by Israeli bombardments of Gaza and the assassination of Hamas commanders. About 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in aerial bombing and Israel's ground invasion.

“It feels like Schindler's list. Will he be on the list or not?” Shelly Shem Tov, the mother of Omer, 21, who is held captive, told Israeli Army Radio of her son's chances of being freed in an emerging deal.

Mr Netanyahu has been sliding sharply in polls, with many Israelis angered by the security failure of October 7 and what they see as a reckless handling of the war so far.

A recent survey by Israel's Channel 12 news predicted he would be soundly defeated if an election was held now, with Benny Gantz's National Unity party gaining 75 out of 120 seats in the Knesset, and Mr Netanyahu securing just 45. Mr Gantz is currently part of the temporary war cabinet.

Updated: February 25, 2024, 12:53 PM