Rally outside UN calls for Hamas to release hostages

Hundreds of demonstrators rallied outside the United Nations on Sunday demanding the release of hostages seized by Hamas during the Islamist group’s bloody attack on Israel.

The protest on the square outside the UN’s Palais des Nations headquarters in Geneva was organized by the Voice for Freedom coalition, bringing together several Christian Zionist organizing committees.

The gathering therefore had a religious tone, with chants and slogans intermingled with prayers and psalms.

The demonstration was the culmination of a visit to Geneva by the families of several of those missing since the Hamas attack. They met with Mirjana Spoljaric, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and UN human rights chief Volker Turk.

Many demonstrators waved Israeli flags or wore them around their shoulders, or held posters featuring pictures of missing Israelis, including children.

Some wore T-shirts that said “Set them free”, and held placards reading: “Never again is NOW”, “Innocent life is non-negotiable” and “Children aren’t bargaining chips”.

Leon Meijer, president of Christians for Israel International, urged the UN Human Rights Council to “work for the release of the hostages”, saying: “Save the lives of those who can still be saved”.

Multiple demonstrations

Hamas militants stormed into Israel from the Gaza Strip on October 7 and killed at least 1,400 people, mostly civilians who were shot, mutilated or burnt to death on the first day of the raid, according to Israeli officials.

It was the worst attack on civilians in Israel’s history. Israel says more than 200 hostages were abducted by the militants.

More than 4,600 Palestinians, mainly civilians, have been killed across the Gaza Strip in relentless Israeli bombardments in retaliation for the attacks by the Palestinian Islamist militant group, according to the latest toll from the Hamas health ministry in Gaza.

Several demonstrations have been held in Switzerland, some pro-Palestinian and others in solidarity with Israel.

Three days after the Hamas attack, Zurich’s Jewish community organized a demonstration in support of Israel, bringing together several hundred people.

A demonstration in Lausanne brought together 4,500 to 5,000 people to demand an immediate end to Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip, while around 6,000 pro-Palestinian protesters rallied in Geneva last Saturday.

Zurich has since decided to ban any gatherings relating to the Middle East, while Basel decided to ban all gatherings this weekend.

The UN human rights office said Friday that blanket bans on peaceful assemblies were disproportionate.

States “must not unduly restrict participation and debate, or critical commentary about the conflict, of expressions of solidarity with Israelis or Palestinians”, spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told a media briefing in Geneva.

“Any restrictions on the right to peaceful assembly must be based on law, and necessary for and proportionate to the risks, such as national security, public safety or public order,” she said.

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