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On Wednesday night, Israel’s Eilat-Ashkelon oil pipeline was breached during maintenance work, spilling thousands of cubic meters of crude over 200 acres of Evrona, a desert nature reserve.

Guy Samet, an official with Israel’s Environment Ministry, has called the spill “one of the gravest pollution events in the country’s history.”

 

Evrona, located 12 miles north of the Red Sea near the Jordanian border, is home to both rare deer and douma palms. On Thursday, Samet told Israel Radio that, “Crude oil flowed throughout the reserve, causing serious damage…to flora and fauna,” though as of this morning Doron Nissim of the country’s Nature and Parks Authority said the oil had pooled in ravines and apparently spared contaminating the area’s deer.

Before firefighters, pipeline crews, police and environment officials had a chance to contain it, the spill had become a black, 4.3 mile river millions of liters thick.

Speaking on Israel Radio, Samet said that rehabilitation of the area “will take months, if not years.” The spill also poses an immediate health risk, with the fumes causing breathing problems and dizziness for Jordanian nationals in the area. Reports of total hospitalizations related to the spill is currently unclear, with some outlets reporting as few as three and Haaretz reporting as many as 80.

Haaretz also reports that the cause of the spill has been initially established as a malfunction due to previous maintenance work.

The spill lies along the main road that leads to Eilat, a Red Sea resort, forcing its intermittent closure while emergency crews assess the problem. The pipeline links Eliat to the port of Ashkelon and has been in operation since the 1960s.

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