Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan is intent on blocking plans to construct a large holiday resort village near Nitzanim Beach, just as he blocked plans for a similar project near Palmahim Beach.
Over the weekend, Erdan informed environmental activists that he has been lobbying the Israel Lands Administration and the Ashkelon Beach Local Authority to scrap the project.
In recent months, the Israel Union for Environmental Defense and the Society for the Protection of Nature have been actively campaigning against the planned holiday resort at Nitzanim, one of the country's most beautiful beaches. The campaign organizers asked Erdan to intervene on their behalf.
The plans call for constructing a holiday resort village with 900 guest rooms, considered large even by international standards. The plans had already been approved as part of the blueprint for the Nitzanim region, which also included creating residential housing for some of the former Gush Katif settlers and declaring a large share of the dunes in the area a nature reserve.
The environmentalists have argued that the permit should be reconsidered since building the resort will divide the nature reserve into segments and prevent the existence of a contiguous ecological corridor. This, they say, would seriously harm the last remaining significant expanse of dunes along Israel's coastline.
In a written response to the campaign organizers, Erdan agreed that establishing the resort runs contrary to the updated principles of environmental planning and would seriously damage a unique natural environment.
He also said that establishing a resort in the area would harm wildlife there and require the area to be fenced off.
He recently met with Yaron Bibi, the head of the Israel Lands Authority, which initiated the plan for the resort, and with Yair Farjoun, the head of the Ashkelon Local Authority, hoping to convince them to scrap the plan and concentrate tourism development efforts in areas adjacent to Ashkelon.
Farjoun, who for years worked in The Society for the Protection of Nature, also expressed reservations about the size of the planned resort and said that plans for the entire area needed to be revisited. "I do not believe in this style of Mediterranean tourism," he said.
Amit Bracha, head of the Union for Environmental Defense, said that Erdan's involvement was a major boost for the campaign.
To date, the planning process has gone ahead as scheduled.
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