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Israel Oil Spill: 600,000-Gallons Lost in Eilat Pipeline Breach

Leak in Oil Pump Causes Huge Spill in Israel's Arava Desert 0:30

TEL AVIV — 600,000 gallons of crude oil leaked from a breached pipeline in southern Israel on Thursday in what officials said was one of the worst environmental disasters in the country's history. The spill in the Eilat region was caused by "the systematic failure" of construction workers who were upgrading the pipeline, according to Guy Samet, southern chief of the country’s Ministry of Environmental Protection.

The spill covered an area five miles in length in the the Beer Ora region of Eilat, Samet told NBC News, adding: "We are talking about 3,000 cubes of raw oil that was spilled, which is the equivalent to three million liters [about 660,000 gallons].” It leaked into rivers and streams and appeared to have flooded part of the Evrona nature reserve, a statement from the Israel Ministry of Environmental Protection said, but it had been prevented from reaching the nearby Jordanian border. "A full clean-up and rehabilitation will take a few years," Samet said. "We can call this a natural disaster that is causing huge damage to the environment. We are talking about one of the biggest natural disasters Israel has experienced." Three people were injured in the spill and were admitted to hospital, said police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld.

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- Paul Goldman and Alexander Smith