Dozens of Israelis defy police to protest Gaza war

TEL AVIV Israel (Reuters) - More than 150 Israelis protested in Tel Aviv on Saturday against a Gaza war entering its second month, in defiance of a police ban on the assembly that cited military restrictions on public gatherings in cities within range of rocket fire. The relatively small turnout was similar to the numbers that have shown up for most weekly demonstrations held since Israel launched an offensive against the Hamas Islamist militants in Gaza on July 8, underscoring the broad public support in Israel behind the war. Slogans daubed on banners held by protesters read: "Stop the massacre," and "Free Gaza."Halleli Pinson, one of the women who attended, said she objected to "the bombing of Gaza and basically we are calling to end the cycle of violence here." About two dozen war supporters held a counter-protest nearby, but there were no reported clashes between the two groups. Israeli police had earlier banned the protest citing military restrictions against holding public gatherings in cities targeted by rockets fired from Gaza. But spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said none of those who attended the illegal gathering were arrested. More than 3,000 rockets have been fired at Israel, and some of them at Tel Aviv, during the past month. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the fighting was aimed at forcing a halt to such firings and to destroy tunnels dug by militants which Israel said gunmen intended to use as conduits to infiltrate the country's borders. Leftist Israelis, objecting to the bloodshed and civilian casualties caused by the fighting, have complained of feeling silenced by the patriotic fervor pervading much of Israel during the war. They have also cited threats published on social media pages in past weeks to assault or even kill dissenters. The private Israel Democracy Institute think-tank found in a survey late last month that as many as 95 percent of Israelis supported the war, and only 7 percent were opposed. Heavy civilian casualties and destruction during Israel's campaign in packed residential areas of the Gaza Strip have raised international alarm over the fighting. Gaza officials say the war has killed 1,890 Palestinians, most of them civilians. Israel says 64 of its soldiers and three civilians have died in the fighting that started on July 8 following a surge in Palestinian rocket salvoes at Israel. (Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan, editing by G Crosse)