Head of Sha’ar HaNegev, Sister City of San Diego in Israel, Killed in Hamas Attack

Damage Sderot
Vehicles at a junction in Sderot damaged during the attack. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

The chairman of the regional council of Sha’ar HaNegev, a sister city of San Diego, was among the victims Saturday when Israel was attacked by Hamas militants.

Ofir Liebstein was killed during fighting with Hamas terrorists, according to reports in Israeli media.

The Sha’ar HaNegev region, home to 9,000 people, borders Gaza. The town of Sderot in the region was among the areas struck.

In a sudden attack that stunned Israel, thousands of rockets were fired, while Hamas gunmen crossed into border villages, killed dozens of people and brought hostages back into the Gaza Strip. At least 300 Israelis were killed.

Reuters reported that civilians lay strewn across a highway in Sderot, surrounded by broken glass. A woman and a man were sprawled out dead across the front seats of a car.

Israel responded with massive air strikes deep inside the coastal enclave, killing scores and wounding hundreds of people and vowing unprecedented retaliation.

“Our enemy will pay a price the type of which it has never known,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “We are in a war and we will win it”.

President Biden said on Saturday the United States was ready to offer “all appropriate means of support” to Israel after the attack and warned “any other party hostile to Israel” not to seek advantage.

Ofir Liebstein

The Jewish Federation of San Diego issued a statement condemning the “horrific attack by Hamas” and the death of Liebstein, whose role in Sha’ar HaNegev was similar to a mayor in the United States

“Our San Diego community is shocked and heartbroken at the situation in Sha’ar HaNegev, and we are beyond devastated to learn of the death of Mayor Ofir Libstein,” said Heidi Gantwerk, president and CEO of the federation.

“Ofir was an outstanding friend to San Diego and recently hosted more than 200 of us on our CommUNITY Trip to Israel, making every single person there feel special and welcome,” Gantwerk said. “He cared deeply about the relationship between San Diego and Sha’ar HaNegev, and had countless ideas for strengthening the region and deepening our partnership.

“Our hearts go out to his family and to the entire region.”

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria also expressed sorrow over the Liebstein’s death .

“This morning I learned of the death of Mayor Ofir Liebstein. 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,” Gloria posted on X.

Gloria shared other posts, along with photos of Liebstein’s visit to San Diego in 2021, and Gloria’s subsequent visit to Shar’ar HaNegev.

“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 said.

Updated at 5:10 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023

Reuters and City News Service contributed to this article.