On Saturday, friends and family of the captives and many supporters came together in trepidation in what has become known to Israelis as “Hostages Square”, near the Ministry of Defence, amid a delay in the release of the second group of hostages and Palestinian prisoners.
“It certainly is the biggest number we’ve seen since this war started,” Al Jazeera’s Sara Khairat reported from Tel Aviv.
“One of the factors is the release yesterday [Friday], they wanted people to come together and spread a message of hope, but also to say that they will continue with these rallies until all of the captives are brought back from Gaza,” she said, adding that there was a feeling of “cautious optimism” among the demonstrators as they waited for hours to hear news of the deal.
Hamas had delayed the release of the second group of captives, accusing Israel of violating the truce, which started on Friday and is expected to last for four days.
A spokesperson for Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs subsequently announced that “the obstacles were overcome through Qatari-Egyptian” mediation and the exchange was likely to go ahead on Saturday night, when 39 Palestinians and 13 Israeli captives would be released, in addition to seven foreigners.
“People felt a lot more relieved knowing that this has now been resolved and that they will be seeing more of [the captives] released,” Khairat stated.
The event in Tel Aviv also marked 50 days since the October 7 attack by Hamas on southern Israel, in which about 1,200 people died, according to Israeli officials.
The Israeli aerial and ground assault on Gaza has since killed more than 15,000 Palestinians, including more than 6,000 children.
On Friday, Hamas released 24 captives and Israel freed 39 Palestinian women and children held in its jails.
“Returning hostages is the biggest mitzvah there is,” singer Ehud Banai told the crowd from the stage, The Times of Israel daily reported.
“With Hanukkah coming, we’ll light many candles during this dark time. Our hearts are broken until we see all of them home.”
Many people at the rally were wearing “Bring Them Home” campaign T-shirts, and holding placards with the names and pictures of the captives.
Alon Hadar, whose grandmother Yaffa was released by Hamas on Friday, told Israeli newspaper Haaretz that “she gives us the hope that all will return, but we know we have to fight for the release of all”.
“My grandmother wanted to come here tonight, but we thought, ‘too soon’ – but I’m sure she’s watching now and is proud of all of us,” Hadar said.
Israelis have taken to the streets every weekend in their thousands in the last few weeks to put pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying the government was ignoring their pleas to prioritise bringing their loved ones home.
Druze community leaders attending the rally on Saturday were warmly welcomed with enthusiastic applause from the crowd.
Demonstrators also gathered in front of one of Netanyahu’s private residences in Jerusalem, calling for his immediate removal from office.