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Netanyahu branded 'traitor' in fourth night of Israel protests

Some anti-government protesters marched on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's home in Jerusalem
— Jerusalem (AFP)

The families of Israeli hostages held in Gaza by Hamas on Tuesday blasted their country's leader as a "traitor" as anger at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's handling of the war grew in the fourth consecutive night of mass protests.

Thousands gathered in front of the country's parliament, with hostage families and former prime minister Ehud Barak blaming Netanyahu for the October 7 "disaster" and demanding an election.

"You are a pharaoh, a slayer of firstborns -- 240 were kidnapped on your watch -- it's your fault," declared Einav Zangauker, whose son Matan is one of the 134 still being held in Gaza by the Islamist militants.

"You failed on October 7 in every possible way," she declared, and now "you are an obstacle to a hostage deal".

Hostage families are furious at Netanyahu, whom they say has not really pushed to have them freed.

They have allied themselves with anti-government protesters who marched for nine months last year to thwart his controversial judicial reforms that they say threatened democracy.

At Tuesday's rally in front of parliament, some of the families accused Israel's longest serving leader of trying to use the war to prolong his hold on power.

Merav Svirsky, who lost both her parents in the Hamas attack, and whose brother was later murdered in Gaza, said Netanyahu is in no hurry to free the hostages.

- Stand-off outside PM's home -

"The basic duty of the state is to ensure the return of the abducted. I was naive, I didn't realise that our prime minister is not interested in bringing them back because of political considerations," she said.

Former premier Barak said if Netanyahu launches a ground offensive on Rafah, the "hostages will return in coffins. The one who abandoned them on October 7 is now sacrificing them on the altar of absolute victory."

He called for snap elections, saying "the man responsible" for the calamity should be "removed from the steering wheel".

Zangauker said Netanyahu had tried to blacken the hostage families for protesting while the country was at war.

"You call us traitors when you are the traitor, a traitor to your people, to the State of Israel."

Some 3,000 of the protesters later marched to Netanyahu's home to shout slogans demanding he resign, with police saying some "rioters" tried to rip away barriers outside. Mounted officers charged into the crowd to stop them breaking through.

Hamas militants seized about 250 hostages on October 7, of whom 33 are presumed dead.

Israel has been traumatised by the unprecedented Hamas attack that resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Its retaliatory campaign has killed at least 32,916 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.