Southern residents are fuming over an emergency government aid plan that leaves out a number of large cities, despite weeks of rocket fire that scarred the landscape.
Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni said Sunday morning that there was “great anger” in his city over the news that Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beersheba were to be left out of the government compensation package for southern communities hit hard by the 50-day Israel-Hamas war.
On Sunday morning, the government cabinet will meet in the Hof Ashkelon community center in Bat Hadar to approve the package.
Shimoni was joined over the weekend in protesting the aid package by a chorus of leaders from southern areas, including the mayor of nearby Ashdod and heads of various regional councils targeted during the conflict.
Shimoni said that the decision not to include the three major southern cities, all of which were heavily targeted by rocket fire during the war, is “a disgrace.” Speaking to Channel 10, he said that Ashkelon needs immediate aid to help recover from the economic effects of the conflict, and said that there many small businesses in the city which have only “two weeks or a month” before they will have to shut their doors.
All three cities as well as a number of smaller ones, despite having absorbed hundreds of rockets during the conflict, are located outside the seven kilometer-ring of southern communities which will receive the benefits.
The mayor said that he learned of the decision to exclude the cities from the aid package from media reports, not directly from government officials.
The cabinet meeting is set to approve an aid package of some NIS 1.5 billion (some $420 million) for southern communities, to be distributed over five years. Sderot is the only large town slated to receive the benefits, Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Sunday.
Ashdod Mayor Yechiel Lasry said Sunday that “to my surprise, there is no trace of the assistance required for communities within 40 kilometers [from Gaza], especially Ashdod and Ashkelon which suffered the most fire.”
Lasry added that the decision to exclude communities further than seven kilometers from Gaza was “a mistake” and warned that if the government did not correct it, residents would enter into a “uncompromising struggle” to receive their due.
On Saturday night Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Lasry and assured him that government economic assistance will be provided to communities up to 40 kilometers from Gaza, including Ashdod, Ashkelon, and Beersheba, Israel Radio reported Sunday morning. The exact amount of aid is to be determined before Rosh Hashana, September 24, by a committee specially convened for that purpose.
“We are in favor of the Gaza perimeter receiving what they deserve and more,” Bnei Shimon Regional Council head Sigal Moran said, “but we need to remember that we were also targeted for two months.”
The Bnei Shimon council, northeast of Beersheba, spent “hundreds of thousands of shekels” during the conflict in order to help residents, and Moran said she hopes they receive “at least some of the costs” from the government.
The Prime Minister’s Office said, in response to criticism over the aid package, that the government has completed a long-term socioeconomic plan for all southern communities, and noted that Ashkelon, along with other areas affected by the fighting, has already started to receive compensation for damage caused during the conflict.
Southerners within the seven kilometer-ring have also expressed displeasure with the government over the handling of the war, which ended on Tuesday, halting rocket fire but leaving the Hamas terror group still in control of the Gaza Strip.
Sunday’s cabinet meeting, to convene in the Hof Ashkelon region, was originally scheduled to take place in Sderot, but was moved after Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi protested, citing the Defense Ministry’s handling of the Hamas conflict.
Eshkol Regional Council head Haim Jelin also said he would not allow the cabinet meeting to take place in his jurisdiction.