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Tel Aviv, many other beaches declared safe after oil spill clean up

Environmental Protection Ministry says tar levels are no longer hazardous, but warns that pollutants may wash up again on recently cleared areas

The almost empty beach in Tel Aviv, on March 4, 2021. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
The almost empty beach in Tel Aviv, on March 4, 2021. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The Environmental Protection Ministry said Wednesday that more beaches are now safe for the public to use, following intensive cleaning efforts in the wake of a disastrous oil spill last month that polluted almost the entire length of Israel’s Mediterranean coastline and killed vast swathes of wildlife.

Tar levels in beaches in Tel Aviv, Herzliya, Bat Yam, Ashdod, Ashkelon and many more towns are now no longer considered hazardous, the ministry said.

Earlier authorities had said some 40 more beaches were declared safe for the public to visit after the first 17 were opened at the beginning of the week.

The authorities warned, however, that large amounts of tar could yet wash up on beaches that had been recently cleared.

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

It was the latest development in a massive clean-up operation and came after on Tuesday the Health Ministry announced that fish caught in the Mediterranean Sea can once again be sold in Israel.

Lifting the ban, which was introduced on February 24, the ministry said that fish and other marine life were now safe to be sold for consumption.

Israelis clean tar off the Bat Yam beach following an offshore oil spill which polluted most of the Israeli coastline, March 2, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

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 called the incident one of the country’s worst environmental disasters. The cleanup is expected to take months.

Last week, 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, Gila Gamliel, has claimed that the oil spill was an intentional attack by Iran, but has provided no evidence for her claim.

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

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

But according to several news reports, the security establishment has so far found no evidence of the claim that the spill was deliberate “environmental terrorism.”

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