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August 23, 2006

Israel’s North Reels From Environmental Cost Of War

Filed under: Global Jihad, Islam, Mellemøsten, Terror — limewoody @ 8:34 am

by Nadeje Puljak
Safed (AFP) Israel, Aug 21, 2006
A week after Hezbollah rockets stopped raining down on northern Israel, the acrid smell of smoke still hangs over many parts of the Galilee hills — a reminder of the heavy environmental cost of the war. “It will take 50 years, two entire generations, for our forests to return to what they were before the war,” says Paul Ginsberg, who heads the forestry department at the Jewish National Fund (JNF), a charity that specializes in planting trees in Israel. During the 34 days of war, Hezbollah launched nearly 4,000 Katyusha rockets into Israel and the vast majority of them slammed across the north, whose pristine hills and valleys normally attract hordes of tourists in the summer.

Subsequent fire are estimated to have destroyed about 750,000 trees, including pines, oaks and cypresses, and 16,500 acres (6,680 hectares) of forest and grazing fields, according to the fund.

The agency, which has embarked on a detailed study of the damage, estimates that the overall cost to rehabilitate the charred landscape will end up around 80 million shekels (18 million dollars, 14 million euros).

Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli director of Friends of the Earth Middle East, listed the loss of trees, biodiversity, breeding grounds, animals and fish, on top of a huge oil slick in the Mediterranean after Israel bombed a Lebanese power plant.

He said forestry in the north of the Jewish state had been “put back 50 years” by the environmental damage and that there was an “urgent need for a reforestation programme to take place both in Israel and Lebanon”.

“It is the north of Israel that is the green eye of the country. Quite tragically Israelis are not going to recognize the north of their country because of the vast extent of the fires that have taken place,” he told AFP.

Bromberg also warned that rubble from destroyed buildings needed to be disposed of properly to avoid risk of contaminating ground water resources.

Friends of the Earth has asked the UN Environment Programme to send a team from its post-conflict branch to Israel and Lebanon to conduct an independent assessment into the environmental impact of the war.

So far, however, Friends of the Earth has had no response from either the Israeli government or the United Nations.

During the war, public attention in Israel was focused on the human toll of Hezbollah rockets, which killed 41 civilians and are estimated to have caused more than a billion dollars in property damage.

But in the background, exhausted firefighters battled a second front, putting out the thousands of fires that flared from the Hezbollah salvos.

“Sometimes five or six Katyushas would fall at the same time and would all spark fires,” said JNF Israel Tauber, a JNF official, referring to the popular name given the Hezbollah rockets.

“Where to start? We had to decide very quickly which was most dangerous and could endanger human life,” he said.

The region’s fire stations found themselves overwhelmed and were reinforced by volunteers from other parts of the country.

At the fire station in Kiryat Shmona, a town a few kilometres (miles) from the Lebanese border that bore much of the brunt of the salvos, the firefighters worked around the clock.

“It’s a mess,” one of the firefighters, Yossi Cohen, said during the last week of the war. “We’re here day and night.”

During a normal summer, the station would get around seven calls during the day, according to Cohen. During the war, the calls increased more than fivefold.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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