Vigil for Israeli hostages as thousands march in latest Free Palestine rally

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A vigil was held in St Kilda on Sunday for the hostages taken from Israel who remain in captivity in Gaza, while in Melbourne’s CBD about 5000 people attended the ninth consecutive Free Palestine rally.

The Bring Me Home Now installation, set up in St Kilda’s Catani Gardens, used silhouette figures to represent all the hostages taken by Hamas on October 7.

The installation in St Kilda’s Catani Gardens on Sunday.Credit: Wayne Taylor

“Unless you actually see and feel the number of people taken, it’s just a number,” said Nirit Eylon, one of the organisers of Sunday’s event. “But when you walk among them, you can feel it’s so many. Even though some of them have been returned, it’s still so many out there.”

Most silhouettes in the installation, which was up only on Sunday, bore a hostage’s name, including those released. “So 113 have been released. For each of them, we put a sticker that indicates how many days they were in captivity,” Eylon said. “Those who have been murdered, we have a sticker on top of their name.”

In Tel Aviv over the weekend, thousands of Israelis rallied to demand the release of the hostages, taken by Hamas fighters who burst into Israeli towns on October 7, killing 1200 people.

On Sunday, Israel ordered residents out of the centre of Gaza’s main southern city, Khan Younis, and pounded the length of the enclave after the United States wielded its UN Security Council veto to shield its ally from a demand for a ceasefire.

Palestinians examine houses destroyed in the Israeli bombardment of Rafah in the Gaza Strip at the weekend.Credit: AP

A truce with Hamas in the two-month-old war collapsed on December 1. Since then, Israel has expanded its ground assault into the southern half of the Gaza Strip.

An official toll of deaths in Gaza, from the Palestinian health ministry in the Hamas-run enclave, exceeded 17,700 on Saturday, with many thousands missing and presumed dead under rubble. The ministry has said about 40 per cent of the dead were children.

As fighting rages across the territory, residents and United Nations agencies say there is effectively nowhere safe to go, though Israel disputes this.

Aid groups have also warned that Palestinians in Gaza are facing mass starvation amid the Israeli offensive, making a ceasefire even more crucial. The warnings over starvation – from the United Nations, international aid agencies and Palestinian relief workers in Gaza – compounded fears for civilians already grappling with fierce fighting, the collapse of the health system and repeated displacement.

The Free Palestine rally in Melbourne’s city centre on Sunday.Credit: Luis Enrique Ascui

On Saturday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed Washington’s veto at the United Nations Security Council a day earlier rejecting a vote backing a humanitarian ceasefire resolution. “Israel will continue our just war to eliminate Hamas,” Netanyahu said.

Washington says it told Israel to do more to protect civilians but still backs Israel’s position that a ceasefire would benefit Hamas.

In Melbourne’s CBD on Sunday, police at the ninth consecutive Free Palestine rally estimated a crowd of about 5000 people gathered.

Greens senator Janet Rice spoke at the event, which each week begins at the State Library and proceeds down Swanston Street. Rice said the Australian government needed to demand an immediate ceasefire rather than supporting the United Sates’ position.

“Australia is cheek by jowl – solidarity every step of the way – with US imperialism, with US colonialism,” Rice said, adding that both countries were ignoring the human rights of Palestinians. “It is so clear that human rights to the US and to Australia only matter for those people that we want them to matter for. They don’t matter for Palestinians.”

Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Luke Hilakari also spoke at the rally, and similarly demanded the Albanese government back a ceasefire in the region, which he visited in September.

“I can’t understand why the Labor Party cannot call for a ceasefire. Not steps to a ceasefire, just a plain old ceasefire – just calling for peace. I don’t know why that is so hard, because I think they forget a little bit that it was the union movement that gave birth to the Labor Party.”

With Reuters, Washington Post, AP

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