Mass protests after Netanyahu sacks defense minister

STORY: Tens of thousands of people took to the streets across Israel on Sunday, angry after the country's Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was sacked.

Just a day earlier, Gallant had broken ranks with the government and urged a halt to a highly contested plan to overhaul the justice system.

Demonstrators blocked a major highway in Tel Aviv, waving blue and white Israeli flags and lighting bonfires.

They also gathered outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's private residence in Jerusalem.

"We are here for the democracy. Bibi (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) is not here for the democracy, thank you very much!"

"We are here to protest. We feel that we have no other way. We have to speak, we have to show ourselves and say: 'this is it, up here. This has to be stopped, this prime minister is not qualified anymore'."

Police later used water cannon to disperse the demonstrators.

Israel has been gripped by mass protests since the government announced its plans for the justice system in January.

The new measures hand the executive wider freedom to name judges to the Supreme Court.

In a televised address on Saturday, Gallant urged Netanyahu to suspend the legislation, saying the bitter dispute posed an immediate danger to national security.

Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges that he denies, has vowed to continue with the project.

He says the legislation is necessary to rein in activist judges and restore the proper balance between an elected government and the courts.

The United States said it was deeply concerned by Sunday's events and saw an urgent need for compromise.

Israel's consul-general in New York responded to Gallant's sacking by resigning.