SAN DIEGO — Mayor Todd Gloria and the city’s Jewish leaders took to social media on Saturday to mourn the death of Ofir Liebstein, the mayor of San Diego’s sister city in Israel, during the Hamas attack.
Liebstein led the regional council of Shar’ar Hanegev, a city of roughly than 9,000 that borders the northeastern corner of the Gaza Strip. According to reports, he was killed in a shootout with militants Saturday morning.
“This morning I learned of the death of Mayor Ofir Liebstein,” Gloria wrote in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. “He led Shar’ar Hanegev in southern Israel and was killed defending his community. San Diego is a sister city of Shar’ar Hanegev and there are deep connections between our two cities.”
In succeeding posts, Gloria shared about Liebstein’s last visit to San Diego in 2021 and the mayor’s visit to Shar’ar Hanegev, along with photos of the two officials.
“Ofir was a friend and the news of his death is absolutely heartbreaking. I offer San Diego’s deepest condolences to his family and the people of the community he loved so much and served so well,” the mayor continued.
“My condolences extend to all of the innocent civilians killed in the terrorist attacks by Hamas,” he added. “San Diego stands with Israel.”
Leaders of Jewish advocacy groups in San Diego echoed the sorrow expressed by Gloria in subsequent posts on social media.
“ADL San Diego mourns the loss of Ofir Liebstein, Mayor of San Diego’s sister city Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council,” Fabienne Perlov, regional director of ADL San Diego said in a statement posted to X. “The entire San Diego community mourns the loss of our sister city colleague and send our collective condolences to his family and the families of the victims in the Hamas attack against Israel.”
“We wish for a speedy recovery to those wounded, pray for peace and stand with Israel,” Perlov continued.
Heidi Gantwerk, President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of San Diego, added in a statement on Facebook, “Ofir was a dear friend to San Diego and to me personally. We are shocked and saddened to learn of his death. Our hearts go out to his family and to the entire community of Sha’ar HaNegev.”
The Jewish Federation of San Diego nutured the relationship with Sha’ar HaNegev for over two decades, and had provided more than $13 million in funding to the city.
In the wake of Liebstein’s death, the deputy head of the council for the city, Yossi Keren, will be assuming his place. The council’s administration and the council’s emergency team will continue responding to the event, the Jewish Federation continued in their statement.
The federation will also be collecting donations for “our friends in Israel and Sha’ar Hanegev” through their website.
The attack on Israel was launched by militants with the group Hamas — a Palestinian Suni-Islamic fundamentalist group founded in 1987 that contests Israel’s claimed land — early Saturday morning. The group fired thousands of rockets into Israeli towns from the Gaza Strip, a 140 square mile territory that is one of two where Palestinians reside, and also sent in ground forces.
At least 300 Israelis have been killed and over a thousand were wounded in the attack, according to Israel officials as of 8:24 p.m. Saturday. Many of the injured are reportedly in critical condition. Hamas has also claimed to have captured dozens of Israelis, including soldiers.
In response, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel is “at war” with Hamas in a televised address, adding that they “will take mighty vengeance for this black day.”
Israel then launched retaliatory strikes on Gaza, killing more than 230 Palestinians and wounding more than 1,600, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
In a second address, Netanyahu called on civilians in the territory — more than half of whom live refugee camps — to “leave now,” adding that the Israeli military would “turn all Hamas hiding places into rubble.”
This call has worried Palestinian advocates, as the Gaza is one of the most densely populated regions in the world and has long been held under a military blockade by the Israeli government that makes movement difficult.
The Hamas attack came on the 50th anniversary of the “Yom Kippur War,” in which Israel was attacked by a coalition of Arab states.
President Joe Biden issued a statement of support for Israel, condemning the attack and pledging to offer “all appropriate means of support to the Government and people of Israel.”
“Israel has a right to defend itself and its people. The United States warns against any other party hostile to Israel seeking advantage in this situation. My Administration’s support for Israel’s security is rock solid and unwavering,” he added.
A slew of federal, state and local officials have also come out in support for Israel.
“What we are witnessing is nothing short of horrific,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a post on X. “There is simply no justification for this. I stand with Israel and its people in denouncing this horrific act of terrorism. We must demand an end to this violence — now.”
“As a person of Jewish descent, the attacks on Israel have been hard for me, my family, and my community,” San Diego County Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer said in a statement. “In my conversations with family and friends, I have found it difficult to express exactly how I am feeling, but it is safe to say that shock, sadness and anger are all emotions that have washed over me today.”