Netanyahu's wife sues paper over gardener

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jerusalem The wife of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sued a newspaper for libel and defamation yesterday, claiming that the Maariv daily was "maliciously trying to humiliate" her.

Sara Netanyahu is claiming $270,000 (£166,400) damages and demanding an apology and correction for a story which alleged that she sacked a 70-year-old gardener at the Prime Minister's official residence. The gardener lost a son in one of Israel's wars.

Mrs. Netanyahu claimed in a suit filed at a Jerusalem court that the man was never fired, continues to work at the residence and the news item contained not "one grain of truth."

She said reporter Ben Caspit never asked for her response, and the paper was trying to humiliate her and "portray her as an insensitive woman who abuses the weak, is cruel to an old gardener and fires a bereaved father for no reason."

The suit comes a week after a former housekeeper sued Sara Netanyahu for alleged verbal abuse and other mistreatment.

The new lawsuit sparked a media frenzy, with Maariv and Yediot Ahronot running huge front page headlines critical of the Netanyahus. The two dailies are engaged in a bitter circulation war with "Yisrael Hayom," a newspaper distributed free of charge and strongly supportive of Netanyahu.

Maariv had no immediate comment on the lawsuit.

Sara Netanyahu, a former flight attendant who is now a practicing psychologist, also stirred controversy during her husband's first term as prime minister from 1996 to 1999. She came under fire several times for squabbling with her staff, flaunting her two young children in public and allegedly meddling in state affairs.

But Sara Netanyahu, the premier's third wife, has kept a low profile since her husband's return to power last March. She had rarely generated headlines up to now, and the couple has enjoyed favorable public approval ratings.