Tens of thousands of Israelis rally against PM Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of vote

TEL AVIV (AFP) - Tens of thousands of people rallied in Tel Aviv on Saturday against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and called for "change", 10 days ahead of a general election.

The protest was organised by the Million Hands grassroots organisation that campaigns for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians and the creation of a Palestinian state.

Police said more than 25,000 people protested in the city's Yitzhak Rabin Square - named after the ex-premier assassinated there during a 1995 peace rally.

Organisers said twice as many people attended the rally.

"This is a demonstration by Israeli citizens who are demanding a change of politics, a peace agreement" between Israel and the Palestinians, said one of the organisers, Dror Ben Ami.

"The current government has failed on the social and economic fronts and has not improved the security situation - the country has broken down," he said.

The rally was one of the largest anti-Netanyahu protests to be held in the run-up to the March 17 election, and reflects growing dissatisfaction with his rightwing government.

"We hope that the left will return," said Ben Ami.

Netanyahu's Likud party is almost neck-and-neck with the Zionist Union in opinion polls.

Another Netanyahu government is unlikely to press for peace as members of the current cabinet are opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state.

A former head of Israel's Mossad spy agency, Meir Dagan, also joined the protest and delivered a fiery address against Netanyahu.

"Israel has enemies but I do not fear them. What scares me is the current leadership of the country," he said.

The crowds broke out in wild applause and shouted back: "Bibi go home!" referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.