Israelis Prepare to Mark Passover, a Festival of Freedom, With Hostages Still in Gaza

Many Israelis were in a somber mood on Monday as they prepared to usher in Passover, the Jewish festival of freedom, saying they would mark the holiday rather than celebrate it, with more than 130 hostages remaining in Gaza.

The number of hostages believed to be alive is unclear, and with negotiations with Hamas captors at an impasse, there is little prospect of their imminent release.

The holiday is to start after sundown on Monday with the traditional Seder meal. By tradition, this is a joyful gathering of family and friends who follow a ritual order of blessings over symbolic foods as they retell the biblical story of the bondage and suffering of the ancient Israelites in Egypt and their exodus and liberation.

Israelis are still jittery after an exchange of fire with Iran this month, the first time Tehran had directly attacked Israel from Iranian territory. And the country continues to mourn the roughly 1,200 people the Israeli authorities say were killed in the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, which prompted six months of deadly fighting in Gaza so far. More than 250 Israeli soldiers have been killed in Gaza since the start of Israel’s ground invasion in late October, the military says. More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, according to Gaza health officials.

Daily tit-for-tat attacks over the northern border with Lebanon have turned a portion of Israel into a no-go zone. Tens of thousands of residents of northern and southern Israel remain in temporary accommodations, having been evacuated from their homes.

“We will mark the Seder night for the children,” said Irit Feingold, 35, a pedagogic instructor for preschoolers who was attending a rally for the hostages in Jerusalem on Saturday night, and was planning to spend Monday night with about 25 members of her extended family.

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