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Tens of thousands stage anti-government protests in Israel as Benjamin Netanyahu’s surgery hailed ‘success’

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Tens of thousands of people have taken part in anti-government protests in Israel while the country’s prime minister underwent “successful” surgery for a hernia.

Protesters in Jerusalem were urging the government to reach a ceasefire deal to free the dozens of hostages held in Gaza by Hamas.

They also called on the government to hold an early election, which is not due to happen until the spring of 2026.

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Despite Benjamin Netanyahu‘s vow to destroy Hamas and bring all hostages home, many of their families believe time is running out.

“We believe that no hostages will come back with this government because they’re busy putting sticks in the wheels of negotiations for the hostages,” said Boaz Atzili, whose cousin, Aviv Atlizi and his wife, Liat, were kidnapped on 7 October.

Anti-government protesters calling for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign in Jerusalem on 31 March 2024. Pic: Reuters
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Pic: Reuters

Mr Atzili’s cousin was killed during Hamas’ attack on Israel, but his body remains in Gaza.

“Netanyahu is only working in his private interests,” he added.

Hostage negotiations resumed on Sunday, according to an Egyptian state-run TV station citing security sources, but there were no signs that a breakthrough was imminent.

On Sunday, crowds of protesters stretched for miles around the parliament building known as the Knesset.

Aan aerial view of anti-government protests in Jerusalem. Pic: Reuters
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An aerial view of anti-government protests in Jerusalem. Pic: Reuters

They were pictured gathering round fires, holding Israeli flags and setting off flares. Others were seen clashing with police, some of those appeared to be arrested.

Thousands also demonstrated in Tel Aviv, where there was a large protest the night before.

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Meanwhile, Mr Netanyahu was fully sedated whilst he underwent surgery on a hernia that was discovered during a routine check-up on Saturday.

Police drag away people who take part in a protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government and call for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group outside of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem, Sunday, March 31, 2024. Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered outside the parliament building in Jerusalem on Sunday, calling on the government to reach a deal to free dozens of hostages held by Hamas and to hold early elections. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)
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Police drag away people who take part in anti-government protest. Pic: AP

Police push a way members of Brothers and Sisters in Arms during a protest against Israel's exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jews from mandatory military service, in Mea Shearim ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem, Sunday, March 31, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)
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Pic: AP

His office announced the surgery would go ahead on Sunday, with a spokesperson for the Hadassah Medical Centre – where the operation took place – announcing hours later that the procedure was “successful”.

“In the operating room at Hadassah Ein Kerem, the hernia surgery of the prime minister of Israel, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu, was successfully completed,” a spokesperson told Sky News.

People take part in a protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government and call for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group outside of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem, Sunday, March 31, 2024. Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered outside the parliament building in Jerusalem on Sunday, calling on the government to reach a deal to free dozens of hostages held by Hamas and to hold early elections. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
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Pic: AP

Professor Alon Pikarski, who led the surgery, said the prime minister was “awake, recovering and talking with his family”.

Before the surgery, Mr Netanyahu gave a televised speech, in which he said he understood the pain the families of hostages are in, but calling for a new election nearly two years early would only halt hostage negotiations.

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‘Nothing will stop’ Rafah operation – Netanyahu

He also repeated his vow for a military ground offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where more than half of the territory’s population are sheltering after fleeing from fighting.

“There is no victory without going into Rafah,” he said, adding that pressure from the US would not deter him.

It comes amid reports from American news website, Axios, that the US and Israel are expecting to hold a virtual meeting on Monday to discuss alternative proposals put forward by President Joe Biden to stop an invasion of Rafah.

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