Netanyahu to Meet Southern Mayors, Hanegbi Clarifies

YERUSHALAYIM -

Caught in the fallout from Minister Tzachi Hanegbi’s gaffe about the “minor” attacks on southern Israel, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was also accused of insensitivity to the ordeal of Israelis under Hamas rocket fire.

PM Netanyahu on Thursday invited the mayors of the southern regional councils to his office in Yerushalayim for a meeting to discuss the crisis. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Interior Minister Rabbi Aryeh Deri, IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot, and the army’s southern region commander Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi are all slated to participate in the encounter statement.

“For many months residents of communities along the Gaza border have been dealing with Hamas terrorism,” the mayors said in a statement. “For months you have not met with them, you have not heard them and you have not listened to them. Now, after the outrageous words of Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, don’t invite them to your office. Meet them in their homes. Come hear their cries and distress.

“You have nothing to fear, they have bomb shelters to protect you, and there is no reason for you to hide. Come to the Gaza border communities and look them in the eye,” the statement said.

Following Hanegbi’s remark and the furor it caused, PM Netanyahu issued a statement saying: “This morning I heard an outrageous remark, and even following an apology, I have to put things straight.

“Sderot is just like Tel Aviv. The security of the residents of the south is just as important as the security of the rest of Israel. We are in the middle of a campaign. Patience, cool and determination are necessary. We are preparing for what comes next. “

Hanegbi sought to explain himself earlier in the day in a statement:

“I never made a distinction between the lives of the residents near Gaza and the lives of the residents of Tel Aviv. If what I said was misunderstood, I am sorry,” Hanegbi said.

Rather, he had intended to explain that a major military campaign in the Gaza Strip would result in numerous IDF casualties and massive rocket fire on Tel Aviv, which would cause major economic damage and cripple the country’s air travel.

He praised the residents of southern Israel as “courageous,” and said Netanyahu’s decision to accept the ceasefire was intended to restore calm in their communities.