Oil spill leads Israel to close beaches as it faces one of its ‘gravest ecological disasters’

Drops of sticky tar began to appear on the country’s Mediterranean coasts last week. Images posted on official government accounts showed seabirds and turtles covered in tar and sticky oil.

“The huge amounts of tar released in recent days to the coasts of Israel from south to north caused one of the most severe ecological disasters in Israel,” the country’s Parks and Nature Authority said on Sunday.

The extent of the contamination is so dire that Israel’s Interior Ministry issued an advisory on Sunday urging people to stay away from the country’s beaches.

A massive cleanup is underway, but the Parks and Nature Authority said it would take a long time to make the marine area safe again. It has established a registration and information center for volunteers who wish to help.

“Based on field evaluations, it is clear that these complex and strenuous operations will be required to continue over a long period of time,” said the Parks and Nature Authority.

He warned that the spill had not yet been contained, as the tar continues to reach the country’s beaches.

“Of 190 kilometers (119 miles) of beach in Israel, 170 kilometers (105 miles) were affected by the ecological disaster,” the authority said on its Facebook page on Sunday. “The event is not over yet, and tar continues to be emitted to the coasts.”

Authorities are investigating the source of the oil spill, which is suspected to have come from an offshore ship.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel toured a part of the tar-soaked shoreline on Sunday to assess the damage.

Volunteers in protective clothing search for tar along Israel's coast in Herzilya Pituah, north of Tel Aviv, on February 21.

“I was very impressed by the exemplary voluntarism of the citizens who came to clean the beaches. We must maintain our beaches, our country and the environment,” Netanyahu said in a statement issued by the prime minister’s office.

“I just spoke with the Egyptian Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources who approached us and we proposed that all the ships that you see here run on natural gas instead of polluting fuel, as happened here,” he continued.

Gamliel said that his “moral obligation to the public is to locate those responsible for the event,” according to the statement.

“We have the possibility to sue the insurer of the ship that is responsible for the contamination and we will do everything possible to locate it,” he said.

In a separate statement posted on his Twitter account, Gamliel said: “We are doing everything possible to find those responsible for the disaster and tomorrow we will bring to the government approval a proposal for resolutions to rehabilitate the environment.”


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