Israel and the Palestinian Authority are home to 19 areas of international significance for plant conservation that are subject to various threats and must be given priority in protection, according to a report issued last week.

The report, issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Plantlife and the World Wildlife Fund, states that among the region's special areas, Israel's Mount Meron, the Hula Valley and the southeastern Hebron Hills should be given priority when it comes to conservation.

The report, which was devoted to internationally significant plant areas in the southern and eastern Mediterranean, notes that the region in general is one of the most important in terms of unique, indigenous plant life.

A total of 207 such areas have been identified in the southern and eastern Mediterranean region, and almost all are under threat in various ways - with over-grazing the biggest problem in most countries.

In Israel, however, the main threats comes from construction and infrastructure, while a significant threat in the PA is the extensive harvesting of medicinal and spice plants for commercial purposes.

Some 1,600 species of wild plants are found in over 5,800 square kilometers in the PA, a relatively large number for the size of the area.

The Palestinians section of the report proposes that priority in conservation efforts be given to the internationally significant southern Hebron Hills and the Pakua-Jelabun region (the Palestinian side of Mount Gilboa ). Almost all the carob trees in that region have been cut down, among other reasons for fuel, and one of its rare flowers is the Gilboa iris.

Specialists from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and a number of scientists, who gathered the material for the report for Israel, identified 15 regions of international conservation significance, the most important of which are Mount Meron, the Hula Valley and the southeastern Hebron Hills, which borders on the Palestinian area and extends to the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve and the Dead Sea to the east.

Mount Meron is home to nearly 70 endangered species, such as the wild peony, and is particularly threatened by fires and the over-pumping of water.

The report stresses the need for special management plans for these areas in light of their importance. In Israel, such plans do not exist, except for the Ein Gedi reserve, where a special program has rehabilitated some of the natural plant life.

Other recommendations include extending extra protection to areas of international importance, requiring environmental impact statements before construction in such areas, and involving local communities in conservation efforts.