JERUSALEM - An oil spill flooded overnight a desert nature reserve in southern Israel, causing "one of the worst" ecological disasters in Israel, officials and local media said Thursday.
Ran Lior, spokesperson with the Ministry of Environmental Protection, said in a statement that millions of cubic meters of crude oil spilled overnight, causing "severe damage" to the fauna and flora in the nature reserve in Evrona.
Israel Radio reported that rescue crew and environmental protection workers have managed "to gain control over the spillage. "
"Evrona is home to a preserve of rare Egyptian Doum palm trees, one of the most northern areas in the world where the specific palm tree grows, and an extensive deer population," Lior said.
Initial investigation indicated that the breach happened due to accidental strike to the Trans-Israel Pipeline near Evrona, close to the Jordan border, during maintenance work, according to Channel 2 TV news.
Guy Samet, director of the Southern Region in the Ministry of Environmental Protection, told an Army radio that the spill was "one of the worst pollution events in Israel's history."
"Rehabilitation will take months, if not years," he added, saying that the full extent of contamination has yet to be determined.
Israel's Yent news website reported that dozens of Jordanians were hospitalized after suffering from suffocation.
The pipeline transfers crude oil from Israel' southernmost port of Eilat to the Ashkelon port on the Mediterranean coast.
Crude oil streams through the desert in south Israel, near the village of Beer Ora, north of Eilat December 4, 2014. Millions of liters of crude oil have gushed out of a pipeline to flood 200 acres of a desert nature reserve in southern Israel, officials said on Thursday. [Photo/Agencies]