Photo Credit: Yori Yanover / Jewish Press
Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin speaking to foreign correspondents Wednesday.

Speaking to the Jewish Press on a foreign correspondents tour of southern communities organized by the Government Press Office of the Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin said, “the army was more effective the previous time, and we saw it in the results.”

Mayor Vaknin said he attended the meeting last weekend with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met with the heads of all the municipalities under terrorist fire. And while they appreciated the PM’s effort to encourage the residents of the south, local officials were clearly demanding more long-term solutions.

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“We told him that it’s already the fourth round in a year,” Vaknin told the Jewish Press. “And while we are projecting strength, and our residents are prepared to remain resilient, I said to him, ‘no other country in the world would have been willing that a million of its citizens be under attacks every two weeks, and 200 thousand children be staying at home instead of going to school.’ That’s what we said.”

Benny Vaknin was first elected mayor of Ashkelon in 1991 on a list named Ashkelon B’Tnufah (Ashkelon Momentum). He is well known for his unabashed criticism of the previous government, which he suggested neglected his residents. Back in December 2008 he said to Israel Radio: “Is there a government in Israel? I think not, I’m looking for one,” stressing the danger to which Ashkelon’s populace is exposed, and calling on the government to react to Gaza fire.

A reporter asked the mayor on Wednesday, “How do you translate into action what you just said about not being able to continue like this?”

“I’m not a military expert,” Vaknin answered. “I only know that the army and the security forces are supposed to come up with the answers. I believe the military responses, at least partially, exist, they just have to execute them. And they are capable of executing them.”

Do you feel that the army’s hands are tied?

“It must be that the problems are more ‘global,'” the mayor offered. “The Islamic Jihad receives its marching orders from Iran, so it has no interest in maintaining peace in the territories. The fact is they were the ones shooting while Hamas kept quiet. But the Jihad gets direct instructions from Iran.”

The Jewish Press inquired: “Did you ask Bibi for anything specific?”

“We asked for one simple thing: put a stop to the violence,” said Mayor Vaknin.

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