Thousands join Israeli hostages' families in march on Jerusalem

Demonstrators block a road during a protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 2, 2024. [AP Photo]

A march by thousands of Israelis demanding the release of hostages held in Gaza reached Jerusalem on Saturday as negotiators prepared to resume cease-fire negotiations in Cairo that would include a swap deal with Hamas.

A column of protesters, led by families of hostages seized by Palestinian militants during Hamas' deadly rampage through southern Israel on October 7, walked up the winding highway to Jerusalem, arriving at the city at sundown.

Holding up Israeli flags, yellow balloons and posters of the hostages, they concluded a four-day march that began at one of sites hit by the October terror attack and were expected to be joined by more protesters at a rally outside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence.

"We're here marching in support of the families of those who are kidnapped, wishing that they will be released soon and that they will be safe. We're praying for them in every step that we take," said Danny Cuperman, one of the marchers.

Gaza truce talks are expected to resume in the Egyptian capital Sunday. U.S. President Joe Biden has said he hopes a cease-fire will be in place by the time of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which starts on March 10.

Dozens of hostages could be freed if a deal is reached.

"This is the only humane thing that can happen," said Yair Mozes, whose 79-year-old father Gadi was kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz. "They must be (coming) home. That's it."

The United States, Egypt and Qatar have been mediating truce negotiations since January. The last deal led to a weeklong pause in fighting in November, during which Hamas released more than 100 hostages, mostly women, teens and children, and Israel freed about three times as many Palestinian female and teen prisoners.

Almost five months into the war in Gaza, 134 hostages are still being held incommunicado in the coastal enclave, according to Israeli authorities. Among them are soldiers and civilians, men and women, a child and his baby brother.

Hamas militants killed 1,200 people in southern Israel and abducted 253 in their October 7 attack, Israel said. Israel responded with a military assault on Gaza that has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians there, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run enclave.

Israelis have been protesting nearly every week under different banners, though in numbers far smaller than the mass demonstrations that gripped the country in 2023. Some demand the government quit over the October 7 security failure while others focus on the release of hostages and aid to Gaza.