Hundreds of residents from southern communities, which were battered by recent rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, protested in Tel Aviv on Thursday against a truce reached with the Hamas terror group and called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign.
Demonstrators scuffled with police as they blocked roads at the city’s Azrieli Junction outside the Kirya military base, which also houses the Defense Ministry.
It followed two days of protests in which southern residents burned tires and blocked the entrances to cities battered by Gaza rocket fire in protest of the ceasefire, which they say has left Hamas poised to renew attacks at will.
The Thursday rally, under the title “The south will not keep silent,” came as Netanyahu was set to meet with southern community council leaders at his office in Jerusalem. Anger over the ceasefire was amplified after a cabinet minister labeled a volley of hundreds of rockets fired at southern Israel this week as “minor” because the Gaza terrorist groups were not targeting Tel Aviv.
Protesters chanted “Bibi resign, Liberman is looking for a friend,” and “Bibi resign, the south is burning” using Netanyahu’s nickname.
Protesters declared that government is “helpless” in the face of the terror and chanted slogans of “Let us grow up in peace.”
MK Haim Jelin, of the opposition Yesh Atid party, who lives in a Gaza border community, was at the demonstration, Channel 10 reported.
Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi sparked outrage when he said the Hamas rocket fire was minor, and mostly concentrated around southern Israeli communities near Gaza, in an Army Radio interview Thursday morning. While the suffering of Israelis in the areas close to Gaza was “a nightmare” and “not negligible,” he said, had Hamas fired at Tel Aviv or Ben Gurion Airport, it would have been a different story.
Netanyahu rebuked Hanegbi for his remarks in a Hebrew-language video posted to his social media accounts and Hanegbi later apologized for his comment.
“This morning I heard an outrageous remark, and even following an apology, I have to put things straight,” Netanyahu said. “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,” he added referring to key border town.
Netanyahu also said Israel was in an ongoing campaign against Hamas and other Gaza-based terror groups and urged Israelis to be patient.
“We are in the middle of a campaign. Patience, coolness and determination are necessary. We are preparing for what comes next,” he said.
Hanegbi’s comments drew condemnation from other lawmakers, who accused the minister of distinguishing between Israelis residing in small Gaza-adjacent communities in the south and those in the economic center of the country.
According to the military, over 460 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel on Monday and Tuesday — more than twice the rate at which they were launched during the 2014 war and the largest-ever number of projectiles fired in one day. The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted over 100 of them. Most of the rest landed in open fields, but dozens landed inside southern Israeli cities and towns, killing a Palestinian man in Ashkelon, injuring dozens, and causing significant property damage.
In response to the rocket and mortar attacks, the Israeli military said it targeted approximately 160 sites in the Gaza Strip connected to the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups, including four facilities that the army designated as “key strategic assets.”
The truce prompted Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to resign on Wednesday and has drawn criticism from some residents of southern Israel who accuse the government of being soft on Hamas.
A Likud official said Wednesday Netanyahu would take charge of Liberman’s portfolio at least temporarily, and said the prime minister had begun consultations with heads of parties in order to stabilize his coalition. The Jewish Home party has demanded its leader Naftali Bennett be given the defense minister’s position.