Egypt fence - Alon Ron - 11.2011
The built portion of the fence on the Israel-Egypt border, Nov. 2011 Photo by Alon Ron
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Environmental groups have asked the Defense Ministry to reconsider the construction of a new fence along the southern end of Israel's border with Egypt, saying it would cause irreversible damage to the region's unique landscape.

On Wednesday, Israel Nature and Parks Authority director Shaul Goldstein and defense officials will visit the route - which stretches some 12 kilometers northwest of Eilat from the Red Sea shore to Ein Netafim - in a bid to find an alternative that would minimize the damage. "Up until now, we had full cooperation with them and they're willing to listen," Goldstein said, referring to the defense officials.

The planned fence, whose construction is due to start imminently, will cut across the Gishron River, one of the region's gems of nature. According to the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, "it will level a 10-meter-wide stretch amid spiring mountaintops and unspoiled landscape. Paving and infrastructure works along the mountainous route would require heavy equipment."

The group says the area's unique geological and zoological phenomena will be irrevocably affected. The region draws some 200,000 visitors during the year, especially during the winter.

The activists urged the Defense Ministry to "reign in the bulldozer race" and consider electronic surveillance systems, which they also suggested for the security fence that has yet to be built in the Judean Desert region in the southern part of the West Bank.

However, the Defense Ministry is unlikely to accept the suggestion, because the fence near the Egyptian border is supposed to prevent African migrants from crossing illegally into Israel.

Given the slim chance of persuading the Defense Ministry to backtrack on the plan, the green groups are focusing on minimizing damage. They have urged the ministry to build the fence along the international border with Egypt, as far as possible from the Eilat Mountains nature reserve. They have also asked that obstacles be inconspicuous, that visitors be able to move as freely as possible in the area, and that the region maintain its status as a nature reserve.

"The defense establishment is committed to the conservation of nature and has been working closely with the Nature and Parks Authority," the Defense Ministry said in a statement. "The planning of the Eilat area fence will account for the local wildlife and the route was carefully chosen to ensure minimum visibility. Although the fence is built along the international border, millions of shekels were allocated to efforts to minimize the damage to the landscape. The construction of the fence will not only impede infiltrations and smuggling but will also reduce the amount of waste the infiltrators leave behind and the damage they cause to the local ecosystem."