Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's wife Sara sued Maariv yesterday for libel and defamation of character, claiming that the daily newspaper "is maliciously trying to humiliate her."

Sara Netanyahu seeks damages of NIS 1 million from Maariv and demands an apology and a correction for an item last Friday, when the paper reported that she fired a 70-year-old gardener at the Prime Minister's Residence.

The suit was submitted against Maariv, its editor-in-chief Yoav Tzur and journalist Ben Caspit, who wrote that Sara had fired the gardener, "an elderly Jew, about 70 years old, a bereaved father who used to rake leaves and carry out basic gardening chores for less than minimum wage."

The Netanyahus' attorney, David Shimron, said the report was completely untrue.

"The gardener in the prime minister's house had never been fired and is still working as usual," the suit says. "Maariv and Caspit did not bother to ask the plaintiff for a response to the false report, prominently published at least four times in Friday's edition, including the front page, trying maliciously to humiliate the prime minister's wife and portray her has an insensitive woman who abuses a veteran gardener and fires a bereaved father for no reason."

Sara Netanyahu says in the suit that the reports caused her much grief and severely damaged her reputation. In addition to NIS 1 million in compensation, she demanded that Maariv publish an apology and a correction on the front page of its Friday edition and on its Web site. She is also seeking court and legal expenses.

In another development, Haim Peretz, the husband of the Netanyahus' former housemaid Lillian Peretz, have complained to the police about death threats.

Peretz said that in a phone call yesterday morning the caller said that unless his wife revoked her suit against the Netanyahus within 12 hours, Peretz, his wife, their children and recently born grandson would be murdered.

Lillian Peretz, 43, sued the Netanyahus for verbal abuse and other mistreatment last week. She demanded NIS 300,000 in compensation for alleged unpaid wages and severance pay and for social benefits she claimed were owed her.

Her husband said the caller was familiar with the members of the family and knew, for example, that two of the children were his from a previous marriage and two were his and Lillian's.

One of Peretz's attorneys said the phone displayed caller ID and the police would be checking its origin.

Last week Lillian Peretz complained that someone had called and threatened her that unless she ended the affair within 12 hours she would be hurt. She said the person added that "it's from Bibi."

"The threats are getting worse every time," attorney Shai Lavi said. "We urge the police to take them seriously."

Last week, a spokesman for the prime minister denied that Netanyahu or his family had anything to do with the threats.