10 000 Israelis demand end to rocket attacks

Tel Aviv - Around 10 000 Israelis poured into downtown Tel Aviv late on Thursday, calling on the government and the army to end Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza once and for all.

It was the first major demonstration in Israel since the country went to war against Hamas on 8 July, launching a punishing air campaign followed by a ground offensive designed to stop rocket attacks and destroy attack tunnels.

Organisers said the rally united people across Israel's often bitter divides of left and right-wing, as well as religious and secular Jewish communities.

Alon Davidi, mayor of the southern town of Sderot, told the rally there must be a solution - be it political or military - to what he called 14 years of rocket attacks.

"I have full confidence in the government and in the army, but at the same time I ask as mayor of Sderot that they put an end to this situation once and for all," Davidi said.

"Finish the job!" he said. "This is a universal principle. We want to live in peace," he added.

Police told AFP that around 10 000 people attended the rally in Rabin Square.

Members of the crowd waved Israeli flags and held up banners calling for peace with the Palestinians and others scrawled with the words: "Occupy Gaza now!"

"We all came here to send the message that rocket fire on the south is not only a problem for the south but a problem for the rest of the country," said Haim Yelin, head of the Eshkol regional council.

He thanked the military for launching the offensive.

"I hope they will transform the military victory into a political victory that will bring quiet to the whole country," he said.

The army says Palestinian militants in Gaza have launched more than 3 500 rockets since 8 July. More than 2 790 have slammed into Israel and around 600 have been shot down.

The attacks have killed two Israelis and a Thai agricultural worker since the fighting began.

At least 1 962 Palestinians, of whom the United Nations says 72% were civilians, have also died alongside 64 Israeli soldiers.

Negotiators in Cairo brokered an 11th-hour extension to an existing truce by another five days, starting Thursday, to allow for continued negotiations on a long-term ceasefire.

Israel's security cabinet was on Thursday meeting to discuss the ongoing Egyptian mediation process.