Ashdod municipality inspectors began Saturday to hand out tickets fining stores opened on Shabbat at the city's Big Fashion complex in the wake of the approval of the Supermarkets Law.
In the past, inspectors only handed out warnings to stores, but this weekend businesses received fines after Ashdod Mayor Yehiel Lasri claimed in a Facebook post on Friday that there was an emerging solution to the crisis.
Ashdod residents protesting what they call "religious coercion in the city" were outraged by the fines.
"Despite the mayor's declarations on efforts to calm things down, another red line was crossed today," protest leaders said in a statement. "Instead of warnings, (inspectors) began handing out NIS 320 fines. He says one thing and does another. We consider this a violation of the balance and status quo in the city. We will not rest until the municipal bylaw is amended."
Guy Saar, one of the protest leaders, decried the fact the mayor "claims he wants to calm things down, while at the same time escalates every week. It cannot be that residents cry out in protest, and he continues as if nothing is happening. He claims he is attuned to us and is trying to find solutions, while at the same time he hands out fines."
Eitan Bar-Zeev, the CEO of the Big Shopping Centers Group, said his company will pay the fines given to store owners. "As we've already said and committed, 'Big' will pay the fines whenever necessary and will also cover the costs of any legal battle with the municipality," he said.
"We can only be astonished for the who-knows-what-time at the municipality's conduct. They make declarations and statements of reconciliation, while at the same time raising the bar on this insufferable religious coercion," Bar-Zeev added.
On Friday, a convoy of hundreds of vehicles left Ashdod's Tet-Vav beach in protest of the municipality's efforts to close businesses in the city on Shabbat.
At the same time, Lasri, who hasn't given any public interviews on the crisis in the city, posted on Facebook saying he will be presenting possible solutions to the Shabbat commerce problem in the near future, which he christened collectively "Living Together."
"In the past few weeks I have shown restraint. I did not allow myself to be dragged to badmouthing others and did not respond to the wild incitement campaign against me," Lasri wrote.
"I refused to take part in dividing the city and severely harming its image. The lion's share of my efforts was thus aimed at constructing a solution that is up to spec both publically and legally. Today I can say with cautious optimism that such a solution is forthcoming," the mayor continued.
Lasri claimed he had been meeting daily with representatives of different communities. The mayor said he listened to their opinions and ideas for a solution to the crisis, and "was glad that most people, on both sides of the argument, agreed and wanted to preserve the city's uniting and inclusive character, allowing everyone to continue living together."
Despite Lasri's statements, he has never met with any of the protest's leaders. Moreover, they claim they were never even approached for such a meeting.
Heads of the city's protest, however, were less than impressed with the mayor's "Living Together" solution, calling it in a post of their own "hollow slogans."
Orit Almozlino-Rize, one of the protest's leaders, said that, "The people of Ashdod don't want to hear hollow slogans anymore. The people of Ashdod demand actions on the ground."