Waving flags, tens of thousands rally against Israel government

Large protests have occurred in Tel Aviv on a weekly basis over Netanyahu’s handling of the nearly nine-month-old war on Gaza [Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu/Getty]

Tens of thousands of protesters waving Israeli flags and chanting slogans against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government rallied in Tel Aviv Saturday, demanding new elections and the return of captives held in Gaza.

Large protests have occurred in the Israeli city on a weekly basis over Netanyahu’s handling of the nearly nine-month-old war on Gaza.

Many protesters held signs reading “Crime Minister” and “Stop the War” as people poured into the biggest Israeli city’s main thoroughfare.

“I am here because I am afraid of the future of my grandchild. There will be no future for them if we don’t go out and get rid of the horrible government,” said 66-year-old contractor Shai Erel.

“All of the rats in the Knesset… I wouldn’t let any one of them be a guard of a kindergarten.”

Anti-government protest organisation Hofshi Israel estimated more than 150,000 people attended the rally, calling it the biggest since the Gaza war began.

Some demonstrators lay on the ground covered in red paint in the city’s Democracy Square to protest what they say is the death of the country’s democracy under Netanyahu.

In an address to the crowd, a former head of Israel’s domestic Shin Bet security agency, Yuval Diskin, condemned Netanyahu as Israel’s “worst prime minister”.

Many are frustrated with the country’s far-right coalition, which includes extremist ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, accusing it of prolonging the Gaza war and putting the country’s security and captives at risk.

Yoram, a 50-year-old tour guide who declined to give his last name, said he was attending every weekly protest as Israel needed elections “yesterday” because of Netanyahu.

“I really hope that the government collapses,” he said.

“If we go to the original date of elections in 2026, it is not going to be a democratic election.”

Israel’s war on Gaza has killed at least 37,551 people, according to the Palestinian enclave’s health ministry.

A Hamas-led 7 October attack on Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

The attack saw 251 captives seized, of whom Israel believes 116 remain in Gaza, including 41 who the army says are dead.

A separate Tel Aviv rally on Saturday night drew thousands of relatives and supporters of the captives.

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