Israelis rally against Netanyahu seeking his exit: 'They will lead us into the abyss'

PM Netanyahu says elections will paralyse the state and would play into Hamas's hand

ISRAEL-PALESTINIAN-CONFLICT-HOSTAGES Israeli anti-government demonstrators protest demanding a secure release of hostages held by the Palestinian Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip | AFP

Thousands of Israelis rallied against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday seeking the ouster of the government and the conduct of fresh elections. The protests were spearheaded by a coalition of anti-government protest movements.

Nearly six months after the war began, tens of thousands took part in the demonstration, billed as the largest-ever anti-government protest in recent times, to the country's parliament building in Jerusalem, accusing Netanyahu of failing to resolve the hostage crisis and mismanaging the war against Hamas.

The demonstrations, slated as a four-day event, also targeted the government's controversial military draft policy that exempted ultra-Orthodox Jewish men from military service. 

The protesters picketed Netanyahu's private residence, clashing with the police in many places. In Jerusalem, police used skunk water - a foul-smelling substance fired from a water cannon - to clear protesters who had blocked Begin Boulevard, the city's major north-south highway.

The irate crowd blamed the government for failing to bring back the over 130 hostages believed to still be in Gaza — 33 of whom are presumed dead. "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 Atzili and his wife, Liat, were kidnapped on 7 October, told AP. Liat was released but Aviv was killed, and his body is in Gaza.

"This government is a complete and utter failure," 74-year-old Nurit Robinson told Reuters. "They will lead us into the abyss."

The protests have also brought the political divisions to the fore. Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, who took to the streets against the government, also accused Netanyahu of focusing more on keeping his coalition partners happy than helping citizens impacted by the war. "The lights have been on in his office for a week to make sure that the ultra-Orthodox can continue to evade conscription despite the war. The IDF is begging for more soldiers [but] they don’t care," Lapid said.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister insisted he was doing everything in his power to bring the captives home. Responding to the protests, Netanyahu said as Israel’s prime minister, he was doing everything and will do everything to bring our loved ones home. 

Israel protest Israeli anti-government demonstrators protest seeking secure release of hostages held by the Palestinian Hamas, in Jerusalem | AFP

Netanyahu argued that elections would paralyse the country for months."It would paralyze negotiations for freeing our hostages and would bring an end to the war before the goals are completely achieved," he said. "And the first who would welcome this is Hamas, and that tells you everything."

He said the final stage of the war was drawing close and the IDF was ready to operate in Rafah.


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