About 100,000 people rallied in a Tel Aviv square Thursday to call for the resignation of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert following a scathing report on his handling of last year's war against Hezbollah.


Tens of thousands of protesters streamed to a central Tel Aviv square after sundown Thursday, demanding the resignation of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The Hebrew on the sign reads: "Elections now." ((Oded Balilty/Associated Press))

Protest organizers put their estimateof the crowd in the city's Yitzhak Rabin Square at 150,000, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on its website. Most media reports estimated the crowd at around 100,000.

The massive crowdcontained a broad mix of Israelis, includingmoderates, hardliners, secular and religious protesters —all, at leastfor the moment,unified in their dissatisfaction with their country's leadership.

At the square in front of the Tel Aviv city hall, a banner reading "Failures, Go Home!" hung behind a podium as protesters began streaming in at sundown.

Organizers decided not to let politicians address the crowd to give the gathering a grassroots feeling, said Uzi Dayan, a retired general.

"There are no politicians here, but this is a political event," he said.

Moshe Muskal, 50, of the central town of Mazkeret Batya, whose son, Rafnael, was killed during thewar, addressed the gathering.

"I am glad that the public is not passive or despairing," he told the Associated Press. He said the soldiers "fulfilled their mission fully. Our mission is to make our country a little bit better."

Olmert has said he won't give up power, despite calls from within his own Kadima party to step down. Popular Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, parliamentary coalition chief Avigdor Yitzhaki and a minor lawmaker have all publicly called for Olmert's resignation.

Netanyahu joins resignation call

Lawmakers also held a special parliamentary debate on the government report, which concluded Olmert showed a "serious failure in exercising judgment, responsibility and prudence" in going to war.

Ahead of the session, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke out for the first time since the report was released and demanded Olmert's resignation.

Later, in parliament, he appealed for new elections.


Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert adjusts his collar as he sits next to Vice-Premier Shimon Peres, right, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni during a special session Thursday of Israel's parliament. ((Kevin Frayer/Associated Press))

"We must redress the primary flaw the report identifies — the lack of a seasoned leadership, the lack of responsibility, the inability to make tough decisions and carry them out," Netanyahu told a sparsely attended deliberation.

Olmert was in the chamber during the debate, but was not scheduled to speak.

Polls indicate Netanyahu, leader of the opposition Likud party, would win ifelections were held.

Some members of Olmert's Kadima party, including Vice-Premier Shimon Peres, have rallied around the embattled prime minister, fearful an internal mutiny could spark early elections.

"The prime minister received here unprecedented support," Peres told reporters following a Kadima party meeting late Wednesday.

The conflict broke out on July 12 after Lebanese-based Hezbollah militants killed three Israeli soldiers and abducted two others in a cross-border raid.

In 34 days of fighting, Israel failed to achieve the two main goals Olmert set — to return the soldiers and to crush Hezbollah. Instead, Hezbollah fired nearly 4,000 rockets into northern Israel.

Nearly 160 Israelis and more than 1,000 people in Lebanon died in the fighting.

With files from the Associated Press