HABONIM: Israeli authorities on Sunday warned people to keep away from the country’s Mediterranean shore to avoid massive tar pollution, as thousands of labourers and volunteers worked to clean contaminated beaches.

Powerful winds and unusually high waves pummelled Israel’s entire Mediterranean coastline over Tuesday and Wednesday, with tonnes of tar staining 160 kilometres (96 miles) of beaches from Rosh Hanikra, just south of Lebanon, to Ashkelon just north of Gaza.

A joint statement from the ministries of interior, environmental protection and health, called on the public to stay away from “the beaches for bathing, sport and leisure, until further notice”. “Exposure to tar can risk the public’s health,” the statement said.

The tar, which killed many marine creatures, was apparently a result of “dozens to hundreds of tonnes” of oil being unloaded from a ship, according to estimates by the environmental protection ministry.

A massive cleanup operation has been launched involving thousands of volunteers and soldiers on loan from the army.

On a tour of a beach at the southern city of Ashdod, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the government would on Monday allocate funds to support the cleanup.

Visiting the beach alongside Netanyahu, Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel said they needed “tens of millions of shekels” to clean the beaches, noting the intent to sue the polluting ship — once it’s located.

“We need to look to the future — this event and similar ones around the world show us how crucial it is to wean ourselves from these polluting fuels, and shift to renewable energy,” Gamliel said in remarks relayed by Netanyahu’s office.

All but two of Israel’s approximately 100 public Mediterranean beaches were closed for the winter, with the bathing season due to open on March 20. “Our goal is to open the beaches on time,” Gamliel said.

Not only tar was washed up on Israel’s eastern Mediterranean shore as a result of the storm.

Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2021

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