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Tar from Israel oil spill reaches Lebanon, threatening nature reserve and turtle breeding sanctuary

Tar deposits have been found at a nature reserve [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 February, 2021

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Tar deposits have been found in two locations in southern Lebanon, including at a turtle-breeding site.
Tar from an offshore oil spill, deemed one of Israel's worst-ever environmental disasters, reached waters in southern Lebanon on Monday.

Black deposits were found in Tyre, northern Lebanon, covering a 200-metre stretch of coast mostly located within the Tyre Coast Nature Reserve.

The spill was discovered last week off the coast of Israel, although the exact timing and cause of the disaster is unknown.

Israeli authorities have placed an unusual gag order restricting reports identifying the vessels involved, their cargo, destination, and port of departure.

Strong storms pushed the tar ashore - along with a 17-metre fin whale that may have died due to ingesting the harmful substance - wreaking havoc along Israel's coastline.

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel has estimated the clean-up effort will cost millions of shekels.

The damage has now reached one of Lebanon's most prized beaches, also a turtle-breeding area and an important habitat for marine life.

Hasan Hamze, director of the Tyre Coast Nature Reserve, says several turtles have already been affected by the tar.

"This oil spill poses a very, very big threat to sea life and biodiversity," Hamze told The Daily Star.

Environmental teams are currently searching the country's southern coast to determine whether any other areas have been affected by the spill, the Lebanese daily reported.

Investigators have found tar deposits at Ras al-Bayada, a headland south of Tyre not far from the border with Israel.

Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab has instructed the National Council for Scientific Research - along with the caretaker ministers for defence and the environment - to file an official request for a damage assessment by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNFIL).

It is not the first time the country's coast has been threatened with ecological disaster due to an oil spill.

Israeli forces bombed storage tanks at the Jiyeh power station during the 2006 war with Hezbollah, causing as many as 30,000 tonnes of oil to spill into the Mediterranean Sea.

The United Nations called on Israel to assume responsibility for the clean-up costs. 

Israel has yet to pay out the $850 million requested in compensation by the UN.

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