Israelis hold renewed mass protests over living costs

The BBC's Jon Donnison says the protests have taken the Israeli government by surprise

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Israelis have again taken to the streets in mass protests over the high cost of living.

At least 250,000 people joined the protests, with the main rallies in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa, although some Israeli media put the turnout as high as 400,000.

They are the latest in a series of protests held throughout the summer.

Many Israelis are angry at the high cost of housing, food, education and health care.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government has responded by forming a committee to examine calls for reform, although he has warned he cannot meet all the protesters' demands.

Economic battlefield

The biggest protest on Saturday, part of what organisers had dubbed a Million Man March, appeared to be in Tel Aviv.

Student union president Itzik Shmuli told the crowd: "They told us that the movement was slowing down. Tonight we are showing that it's the opposite. We are the new Israelis, determined to continue the fight for a fairer and better society."

One banner read: "An entire generation wants a future" and another "The land of milk and honey, but not for everybody".

Jonathan Levy, one of the protest organisers, told the BBC: "All the non-rich people in Israel, no matter if they're secular or religious, old or young, realise that we've abandoned some really important battlefields in this country, that is economy, and we only dealt obsessively with security problems."

The BBC's Jon Donnison, in Tel Aviv, says the Israeli government - with its eyes on the impact of people-power elsewhere in the Middle East - has been taken aback by the spontaneity and scale of the demonstrations.

He says many other countries look enviously at Israel's growing economy but people here feel the wealth has not been shared.

Many of the protesters are from a middle class that has had to bear a hefty tax burden and conscription into the services.

The movement began in mid-July - when some Israelis angry at housing costs pitched tents in a Tel Aviv neighbourhood - and has burgeoned.

Mr Netanyahu has appointed a panel of experts to meet protest leaders and assess their demands.

But some demonstrators say this is an attempt to stall.

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