The Ministry of Environment and the Civil Administration shut down 32 charcoal-making operations in Palestinian villages in northern Samaria yesterday, following ongoing complaints by area residents about the pollution they produce. Environment Minister Gilad Erdan accompanied his staff on the operation, which took place several months after the Civil Administration issued warrants ordering the closure of the operations targetted yesterday.

In northern Samaria alone there are an estimated 400 such operations which produce charcoal for use in barbecues.

Yesterday's operation saw the closure of 11 operations near Mitzpeh Ilan, 13 in the area of the Reihan Crossing on the Green Line, and eight others in the area of Barta'a.

Wood for the charcoal operations in northern Samaria come mainly from Israel. The process of controlled burning lasts 23 days, after which the charcoals are ready for use in barbecues. During the first three days of the burning process, a large amount of smoke is produced and then carried by the winds to nearby Israeli communities, including Mitzpeh Ilan and Kibbutz Metzer.

Some of the operations have been in operation for decades, but in recent years the number of new operations has grown. Adjacent Israeli communities complained of strong smells and respiratory problems caused by the pollution.

The Environment Ministry said yesterday that the Palestinians suffer from the pollution even more. For example, residents of the village of Ya'abed, near Jenin, complain that the average life expectancy is 40 years, and that there is a high incidence of cancer and asthma.

Less than a year ago, the Environment Ministry carried out a check of the air quality in the area and found high concentrations of pollutants. The test also showed large quantities of poisonous materials that are released during the burning process.