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Israel’s Shin Bet warns violent Jerusalem protests could lead to 'dangerous' escalation

Rallies for the release of the hostages and calls for the resignation of the government are ramping up in Israel, where some desperate protesters have resorted to violence.
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Family members of hostages held in Gaza demonstrated Wednesday, smearing yellow paint on their hands and the window of the gallery overlooking the Knesset plenum. The color has become a symbol of the struggle for the release of the abductees. Security guards removed them from the site by force. 

The incident came as protests for the release of the hostages and against the Israeli government are becoming increasingly aggressive. Some of the families feel the demonstrations since Oct. 7 have failed to exert necessary pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needed to reach a deal with Hamas. 

Shin Bet head Ronen Bar, who leads Israel's domestic intelligence agency, warned Tuesday night that violent demonstrations including those outside the Jerusalem residences of Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog could end badly. 

“The violent discourse online and some of the scenes we saw tonight in Jerusalem go beyond acceptable protest, harm the ability to maintain public order, could lead to violent clashes with law enforcement, disrupt their ability to carry out their work and even cause harm to individuals," read a statement from Bar's office.

"There is a clear line between legitimate protest and violent and illegal protest. This troubling trend could take us to a dangerous path that must be avoided," it warned.

Bar has been seen twice around the prime minister's residence in recent days, securing the premises amid the heightened national atmosphere, the Times of Israel reported. 

Thousands of people, including many family members of hostages held in Gaza, assembled for the third day in a row Tuesday outside the Knesset in Jerusalem to call on the government to reach a deal. They also called on Netanyahu to resign and for new elections to be held, arguing that the current government failed to prevent the worst terror attack in Israel's history and has not brought the hostages home. 

After rallying outside the Knesset, thousands of protesters marched to the president’s residence before continuing to the prime minister’s house, some of them holding torches. In both locations, protesters clashed with police as they attempted to breach barricades and several were detained for questioning. One demonstrator threw his burning torch at a police officer on a horse and scores were treated for injuries. 

As the situation grew unruly, security forces used crowd control spray to disperse the protest. One protester laid down under a police vehicle for about half an hour before being dragged out and detained.

Politicians from across the political spectrum criticized the violence. 

War cabinet member Benny Gantz said Tuesday night, "The strength of the Israeli military and the spirit of the warriors are a significant part of our ability to win the war, but the unity of the people is the key to our future." He added, "We must not accept violence from any side. We must not accept ignoring police instructions and breaking barriers, as we saw last night in Jerusalem. A protest is legitimate and the pain is also understandable, but the law and the rules must be respected."

Calling on the government to resign, opposition leader Yair Lapid said Wednesday, “Our hearts are with you, the families of the protesters. We will fight with you. I call on protesters to follow the law, and on police to maintain the safety of protesters.” He added, “There is no other country in the world where this government would be in power on Oct. 8. It’s a disaster for the ages that you stayed in power.”

More rallies are expected across Israel in the coming days and an especially large demonstration Saturday night, when the country will mark six months since Hamas' Oct. 7 attack.