The state has promised to restrict sand quarrying to only a small part of the ecologically sensitive Samar dunes in the Arava, the state told the Be'er Sheva District Court last week.

The authorities were responding to a petition filed a few months ago by Arava residents claiming that according to the tender, the winning quarrying company would be able to mine more sand than the approximately 1 million tons the planning institutions had envisioned.

The residents were represented by Tel Aviv University's Social Justice Clinic and the Union for Environmental Defense.

The company, Elyakim Ben-Ari, says the plan as approved by the planning bodies does not limit the quantity of sand to 1 million tons.

The state noted that some 250,000 tons of sand had already been quarried from two areas of the dunes, known as areas A and B, so Elyakim Ben-Ari will be permitted to mine 750,000 tons more from another area, known as Area C.

According to the Union for Environmental Defense, this means Elyakim Ben-Ari can quarry only Area C. Further quarrying will not be permitted, so environmental damage will be limited to one area only.

"Today the struggle for the dunes ends with a legal and environmental achievement in that the state has pledged to protect most of the Samar dunes from quarrying," the director of the Union for Environmental Defense, Amir Bracha, said after the hearing. "We intend to demand, along with the residents, that the court make the state's pledge its verdict."

Two weeks ago, the Israel Lands Administration said it had proposed a compromise in which only Area C would be quarried. But the ILA said that after its proposal was rejected it approved quarrying in a second area.

The state's response, however, suggests that the quarrying was limited from the outset to only one area. Two environmental groups - the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and Green Course - continue to oppose any mining of the Samar dunes and are protesting at the site around the clock.

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