Middle East

Israeli desert hit by major oil spill

Oil spill in Israel. Photo: 4 December 2014 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Israeli officials say rehabilitation of the area could take months, even years

Millions of litres of crude oil have caused severe damage after spilling from a pipeline in what is described as one of the worst environmental accidents in Israel's history.

The spill reached the Evrona nature reserve north of the southern port city of Eilat, close to the Jordan border.

Israeli and Jordanian media report that 80 people near Aqaba have been taken to hospital with breathing difficulties.

Israeli officials say rehabilitation of the area could take months, even years.

The pipeline was breached during maintenance at a spot some 20km from Eilat on Wednesday evening.

Ronen Moshe, spokesman for the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company (EAPC), told Haaretz newspaper that the spill happened in a new section of the pipeline.

"The leak has been stopped," he said, adding that an investigation was under way to determine the cause of the spill.

Police, fire fighters, pipeline engineers, maintenance teams and Environment Ministry officials were dispatched on Wednesday to try to stem the breach.

The Evrona is one of the most important nature reserves in the Jordan rift valley, which runs from the Sea of Galilee in Israel to the Red Sea.

The pipeline, which stretches between Eilat on the Red Sea to Ashkelon on the Mediterranean, was built in the 1960s to bring Iranian oil from the Persian Gulf to Europe.

However since the severing of relations between Iran and Israel after 1979 Islamic Revolution it has been mostly used to move oil within Israel.

More on this story