Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a televised statement criticizing anti-government protesters after former defense minister and senior opposition figure Benny Gantz warned the country was heading towards civil war.
The dramatic exchange came after another day of protests across Israel, some of which turned violent.
Anti-government protesters blocked the streets and gathered outside the homes of key government ministers.
Police used tear gas to disperse some of the protests and described it as “a sad day”.
“We cannot afford to descend into anarchy,” Netanyahu told Israelis tonight. “The freedom to demonstrate is not a license to degenerate the country into anarchy and chaos, because a sovereign country cannot stand chaos.”
Netanyahu also accused the protesters of “crossing red lines” and compared them to Israeli settlers who riots in the Palestinian town of Huwara on Sunday evening.
“We will not accept violence in Huwara, and we will not accept violence in Tel Aviv,” he said. His statement made no mention of compromise.
Minutes before his statement, Benny Gantz called on Netanyahu and the Knesset Speaker to “immediately close the Knesset, stop all discussions and legislation in the committees and plenum, and arrive at the President’s residence tonight. What are you waiting for? It could end in blood.
“A civil war is approaching, and the coalition is rushing towards it with eyes wide closed.”
Israeli President Isaac Herzog has repeatedly tried to bring the different sides together and called for a pause in legislation while the talks are held. The government has so far refused to commit to this.
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Tonight Mr Herzog released a statement calling for calm.
“We are going through difficult and dangerous days, and things could get worse,” he said. “Human rights, freedom of expression, the balance between the authorities and the rule of law must be respected.”
Earlier, one of Mr Netanyahu’s top ministers, Bezalel Smotrich, said West Bank town of Huwara should be ‘wiped out’in remarks criticized by former Prime Minister Yair Lapid as “incitement to war crimes”, and likely to exacerbate tensions.
Protests against government plans to reform the judiciary have escalated since the start of the year. The bill, which will give a simple majority in the Knesset the power to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision, passed its first reading this week.
Many Israelis have described it as a coup, and hundreds of thousands demonstrate every weekend.
Although today’s protests have not shut down Israel as expected, they have remained largely peaceful so far.
More protests are planned in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other cities this weekend.