Israeli police fire water cannons as tens of thousands protest Netanyahu in Tel Aviv

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is shown in the Knesset, the parliament, in Jerusalem, on Wednesday. Photo by Debbie Hill/ UPI
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March 17 (UPI) -- Israeli police fired water cannons to deter tens of thousands of protesters who gathered Saturday night in Tel Aviv to protest against the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"Tonight, as part of a protest approved by the authorities and organized in an orderly manner, in accordance with agreed conditions and without deviation, demonstrators arrived and protested legitimately in the area designated for the protest, with most of the public leaving the site at the end of the protest," Israeli police said in a statement.

"At the same time, a number of protesters gathered and blocked Highway 20 northbound, in order to disrupt the normal pattern of life, attempting to block a traffic artery and prevent the free movement of vehicles on the road. During the illegal demonstration, a disorderly conduct offender was arrested and transferred for interrogation."

Police fired water cannons at the protesters who blocked Highway 20, The Jerusalem Post reported. The protesters are calling for elections to replace Netanyahu as the country's leader.

Water cannons, first used to control crowds in Germany in the 1930s and frequently used to quell civil rights protests in the United States, are considered a less-lethal form of crowd control.

They work by firing water at rates of about 20 liters per second and can cause traumatic injuries from the high pressure and velocity. It was not immediately clear if any protesters were injured by police.

Before the war in Gaza broke out, Netanyahu -- who once faced allegations of corruption and bribery -- was met with widespread criticism for his attempts to influence the country's judicial system by proposing legislative initiatives that would undermine the independence of the judiciary.

Since then, his handling of the hostage crisis has received criticism from family members of the civilians taken by Hamas on Oct. 7. And, his handling of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and relentless assault on Gaza have been heavily criticized by Israelis and American Jews seeking a peaceful end to the conflict.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the highest-ranking Jewish leader in the United States, who has previously repeated support for Israel amid the war in Gaza, made waves last week when he called for new elections in Israel.

Last week, Yitzhak Yosef -- the Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel -- said that citizens will leave the country if they are forced to be drafted -- drawing the ire of lawmakers.

"Will they force us to join the army? We will go abroad," Yosef said. The Haredim have long enjoyed exemptions from mandatory military service, but the issue has sparked debates between those calling for fairness in military service and those advocating religious freedom.