msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 8/3/2006 1:09:31 PM ET 2006-08-03T17:09:31

Oil leaking from a bombed power station in Lebanon has reached the coastline of neighboring Syria and is spreading north, the Kenya-based United Nations Environment Program said.

Israeli jets hit storage tanks at the Jiyyeh plant south of the Lebanese capital Beirut at the beginning of the war, spilling an estimated 10,000 to 30,000 metric tons of oil into the Mediterranean.

"It is nearly three weeks since the bombing of the power plant and the initial satellite imagery unfortunately confirms that the oil spill is of a significant magnitude and spreading," UNEP Director Achim Steiner said in a statement. "A coordinated response must urgently be allowed to proceed, so that we can limit the immediate environmental damage as well as the longer terms implications for the economy and the Lebanese people."

The agency said the spill had contaminated 50 miles of Lebanon's coastline, and 6 miles of Syria's.

Lebanon’s Environment Ministry has called it the worst environmental disaster to hit the Arab state.

Local ecologists say the oil is especially threatening since fish spawn and sea turtles, including the endangered green turtle, nest on Lebanon’s coast.

The conflict between Israel and Lebanon-based Hezbollah flared after militants kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in a July 12 raid.

“An environmental catastrophe is threatening the Mediterranean region ... hostilities must cease to guarantee immediate access to the affected area,” said Paul Misfud, coordinator for UNEP-Mediterranean Action Plan.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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