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Israel declares 17 beaches safe after oil spill; most still off-limits

Authorities say tar cleanup has been completed at over a dozen sites, following devastating environmental disaster

Tar found at the Bat Yam beach, following an offshore oil spill which polluted most of the Israeli coastline, March 2, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Tar found at the Bat Yam beach, following an offshore oil spill which polluted most of the Israeli coastline, March 2, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Israel on Sunday said 17 beaches were safe for the public to visit following a devastating oil spill in the Mediterranean last month that polluted most of its shoreline.

In a joint statement, the environmental protection, health and interior ministries said cleanup at some beaches had been completed and samples taken from the water indicated they were safe for water sports. The authorities warned, however, that copious amounts of tar could yet wash up on beaches that had been cleared.

The beaches declared safe are: Nahariya’s Galei Galil North; Acre’s Argaman and Tmarim beaches; Haifa’s Bat Galim, Hof HaCarmel, and Dado Zamir beaches; Herzliya’s Nof Yam and HaSharon beaches; Tel Aviv’s Tel Baruch South beach; Ashdod’s Lido, Oranim, Keshatot, Riviera beaches; Ashkelon’s Delilah North, Delilah South, and Ashkelon National Park beaches; and the Zikim beach in the Hof Ashkelon regional council.

All other beaches remained off-limits, the ministries stressed.

The authorities also noted the bathing season had yet to officially begin and swimming was prohibited in areas without lifeguard services.

More than 1,000 tons of tar are estimated to have washed onto Israel’s Mediterranean coastline last month, causing extensive environmental damage and forcing the closure of beaches to the public. Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority has called the incident one of Israel’s worst environmental disasters. The cleanup is expected to take months.

Pieces of tar from an oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea wash up on a beach in the Gdor Nature Reserve near Michmoret, Israel, March 1, 2021. The cleanup from the disastrous oil spill that has blackened most of the country’s shoreline is expected to take months. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Ministry identified the ship it believed was responsible for the February 1 oil spill as the Panama-flagged, formerly Libyan-owned tanker named Emerald, which it said was carrying Iranian oil.

The investigation determined the ship was smuggling oil from Iran to Syria when the spill occurred in early February.

Israel’s environmental protection minister has claimed that the oil spill was an intentional attack by Iran, but provided no evidence for her claim.

Ministry officials investigating the incident said it was unclear whether the spill was deliberate or accidental, but said they received no warning about the incident until tar started washing up on shore.

Defense officials remained silent about the charge by Gila Gamliel, a junior minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

But according to a Channel 12 report Thursday evening, the security establishment has so far found no evidence of the claim that the spill was deliberate “environmental terrorism.”

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