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

TEL AVIV, Israel (news agencies) — 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 hostages held by Hamas.

The demonstrations come as international mediators have renewed efforts to broker a deal, with Hamas over the weekend appearing to have dropped a key demand for an Israeli commitment to end the war, according to Egyptian and Hamas officials who spoke to media. This could deliver the first pause in fighting since November and set the stage for further talks.

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. The war has caused widespread damage and precipitated a vast humanitarian crisis.

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 he was open to pausing the war as part of a hostage deal, but added that Israel would press on until it reached its goals of destroying Hamas’ military and governing capabilities and bringing all hostages home.

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 Hamas-run 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 about 20 projectiles toward Israel in the north. The launches targeted 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.

— Magdy reported from Cairo.

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