Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday (March 26) sacked Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, triggering mass protests, a day after Gallant broke ranks with the government and urged a halt to a highly contested plan to overhaul the judicial system, Reuters reports.
As news of the dismissal spread, tens of thousands of protesters, many waving blue and white Israeli flags, took to the streets late at night across the country. Crowds gathered outside Netanyahu's home in Jerusalem, at one point breaching a security cordon.
Some three months since taking office, Netanyahu's nationalist-religious coalition has been plunged into crisis over bitter divisions exposed by its flagship judicial overhaul plans.
"State security cannot be a card in the political game. Netanyahu crossed a red line tonight," opposition leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz said in a joint statement.
They called on members of Netanyahu's Likud party to not have a hand in "the crushing of national security."
Israel's consul-general in New York said he was resigning over the dismissal. Israel's research universities announced they would stop holding classes due to the legislative push, calling for its immediate freeze.
Some of Netanyahu's hard-right coalition partners had called for Gallant to be sacked, but a number of other Likud lawmakers have backed his call for a halt to the reforms.
The turmoil comes at a key moment in the passage of the legislation with a bill giving the executive more control over the appointment of judges expected to be brought for ratification this week in the Knesset, where Netanyahu and his allies control 64 out of 120 seats.
But how - or even whether - that as yet-unscheduled vote will proceed has been thrown into question by the wave of protest sparked by Gallant's removal and the deepening splits within the coalition.