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Families of hostages held by Hamas conclude march to Netanyahu's office

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

The Palestinian Ministry of Health says more than 11,800 Palestinians have now been killed in Gaza, and many of them were killed in south Gaza, where Israel told people to go. And in Israel today, families of the more than 200 hostages taken by Hamas during its deadly October 7 attack concluded a march across the country from Tel Aviv to the prime minister's office in Jerusalem. The families are demanding that they be allowed to meet with the war cabinet to find out what progress has been made to release the hostages.

NPR's Peter Kenyon joins us now from Jerusalem. Hey, Peter.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.

DETROW: This sounds like a very emotional, very intense march. What can you tell us about it?

KENYON: Well, yes. It was thousands of people - exactly how many thousands, i'm not sure. Some called it tens of thousands, but a large crowd in any event. They made the trek from Tel Aviv with several stops along the way, finally, today, climbing the hill that leads up to Jerusalem. A lot of people seemed quite emotional, and many of them actually didn't want to talk about their own family or the people they knew who may have been abducted by Hamas. I almost got the impression they didn't want to put those names out in the public sphere any more than they already are. There are posters showing the faces of these abductees all over Israel. But it was, yes, a strong turnout.

DETROW: That makes sense. But aside from that, what did you hear from participants at the rally?

KENYON: Well, it was organized by a group called the Hostages and Missing Families Forum. And the spokesperson for the group got the crowd going when he pushed the government of Benjamin Netanyahu to do more to bring the hostages home. Here's a bit of what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

KENYON: And what he's saying there is for the last few days, for five days, the families have been marching to ask Bibi Netanyahu, please, we want a meeting with you now. Say it so he can hear all of you. At which point the crowd begins chanting now, now, now.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Chanting in non-English language).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in non-English language).

KENYON: And there was a government response rather quickly. Prime Minister Netanyahu announced he would make sure that family representatives do get a meeting on Monday with the war cabinet. Now, the underlying message here is these families, they don't think the government's made recovering the hostages a high enough priority as the military keeps going after Hamas fighters in Gaza. And there really has been limited information about the talks on hostages. It's not the kind of thing you can really talk about in public. We know Qatar has been involved.

But for the families, this lack of information is deeply frustrating. And remember, it comes on top of the anger at the government for its failure to anticipate and protect against this attack, which was not just rocket fire, but, of course, a ground assault by Hamas on Israeli civilians - the worst attack in the state of Israel's history.

DETROW: We are now six weeks into this conflict - six weeks since October 7. What do we know about where it may be headed next?

KENYON: Well, we know it's been violent and could get more so, according to Gaza health officials, witness accounts, satellite data and expert evaluation. Palestinians have moved to the southern Gaza Strip on Israeli orders, only to find Israeli airstrikes following them south. Now, as far as Israeli hawks are concerned, that's fine. The military should conduct a repeat of what Palestinians call the Nakba, or catastrophe, after the 1948 war and that led to the establishment of the State of Israel and the dispossession and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, many of whom wound up in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Cabinet minister Avi Dichter, for one, is calling for the, quote, "Gaza Nakba 2023." And there are some on the far right who just want to ship the Gazans out, send them to Egypt or even to Europe. So far, no country has volunteered to take them in. And I have spoken with military and political analysts. They told me that the basic Israeli goals, rendering Hamas unable to govern and incapable of carrying out another attack like the one on October 7, are good goals. But they're not seeing much detail regarding how that will not only be accomplished but maintained well into the future.

DETROW: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Jerusalem. Thank you.

KENYON: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
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