Tens of thousands of Israelis protest against Netanyahu

Police control part of a protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government.

Police control part of a protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government. Photo: AAP

Tens of thousands have rallied in Jerusalem to protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and demand early elections over his handling of the six-month war in the Gaza Strip.

During one of the largest protests since the country went to war, demonstrators in Jerusalem called for the government to resign and a quick deal to release the hostages held by Hamas militants.

Israeli society was broadly united immediately after October 7, when Hamas killed some 1200 people during a cross-border attack and took 250 others hostage. Nearly six months of conflict have renewed divisions over the leadership of Netanyahu.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid sharply criticised Netanyahu at Sunday’s demonstration.

He claimed the prime minister was destroying Israel’s relations with the US and leaving the Hamas hostages to their fate.

Netanyahu was doing “everything for politics, nothing for the country,” Lapid said.

Netanyahu firmly rejected the criticism and calls for a new election.

“Calls for an election now, at the height of the war, a moment before victory, will paralyse Israel for at least six months, in my estimation even eight months,” he said.

A new election would also stall negotiations over the release of more hostages in return for a ceasefire in the Gaza war and the release of Palestinian prisoners, Netanyahu said.

This would “bring about an end to the war before the goals are achieved” and thus play into the hands of Hamas in particular, he said.

The Israeli prime minister emphasised that he was obliged to bring all hostages home. “I won’t leave anyone behind.”

Some hostage families agreed that now is not the time for elections.

“I don’t think that changing the prime minister now is what will advance and help my son to come home,” Sheli Shem Tov, whose son Omer was kidnapped from a music festival, told Israel’s Channel 12.

“To go to elections now will just push to the side the most burning issue, which is to return the hostages home.”

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