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Government shuts all of Mediterranean beaches due to tar spill

People clean tar from an oil spill in the Mediterranean sea in Gador nature reserve near Hadera, Israel, on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
People clean tar from an oil spill in the Mediterranean sea in Gador nature reserve near Hadera, Israel, on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The government is advising Israelis to avoid all Mediterranean beaches from north to south due to pollution from a tar spill that has reached Israel’s coastline.

A joint advisory issued by the Health, Interior and Environmental Protection ministry calls on the public “not to go [to the beaches] to swim, or do sports or leisure activity until further notice.”

“Exposure to tar could harm public health,” the advisory reads.

Tar on a beach under the Carmel Beach Regional Authority’s jurisdiction in northern Israel, February 17, 2021. (Sharon Adi and Dan Biron, courtesy of the Environmental Protection Ministry)

The advisory covers all beaches from Rosh Hanikra, on the border with Lebanon, to Zikim, on the border with Gaza.

The cause of the spill of dozens of tons of tar, among the worst environmental disasters in Israel decades, is still unclear. Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel said Saturday an oil spill had been identified about 50 kilometers (31 miles) off the coast a week ago, and that one of 10 vessels that were in the area at the time may have been responsible.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel walk on Ashdod beach on February 21, 2021, after an offshore tar spill caused damage along Israel’s Mediterranean coast (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

On Saturday, a number of people who volunteered to participate in a cleanup operation of the massive tar spill were hospitalized after inhaling apparently toxic fumes.

Soldiers have now been enlisted to bolster the cleanup effort.

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