Protester in Israel have blocked roads leading to the airport to stop the prime minister from flying out of the country amid nationwide demonstrations against controversial judicial reforms.

In Tel Aviv, thousands of protesters, many waving Israeli flags and carrying signs with slogans against the reforms, marched towards an intersection close to the city’s busiest road, the Ayalon highway.

There were violent scuffles as lines of officers pushing back protesters.

In Israel military service is compulsory, and most men are required to do reserve duty every year afterwards, mostly up until the age of 40.

The protests against the judicial reforms have been going on for about 10 weeks, bringing at times hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets.

The issue has caused deep divides in Israeli society, and significantly has seen reservists – the backbone of Israel’s military – threatening to refuse to serve as a way of showing their opposition.

The weeks-old protests are some of the biggest Israel has ever seen.

Meanwhile convoys of cars streamed towards the airport from early morning, causing gridlock at the entrance to try to block Mr Netanyahu from getting there by road. He flew in by helicopter instead.

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin landed at the airport on Thursday and was reportedly forced to alter his schedule because of the protests.

In talks with his Israeli counterpart, Mr Austin expressed concern about escalating violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. It came hours after three Palestinian militants were killed in a gun-battle with Israeli forces in the town of Jaba.

Mr Netanyahu’s government has stood firm in the face of the uproar, claiming the protests are being fuelled by political opponents.

Critics say the planned reforms, which are already making their way through parliament, will politicise the judiciary and could lead to an authoritarian government.

Mr Netanyahu says the reforms are designed to stop the courts over-reaching their powers and that they were voted for by the Israeli public at the last election.