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Assuming work on the Israel Bicycle Trail, slated to start in the coming weeks, proceeds on schedule, in five years, Israeli cyclists will be able to travel the length and breadth of the country along 1,200 kilometers of trails encompassing every kind of terrain across the country.

The cabinet approved the plan for the bike path eight months ago, and the first section, on which work will soon begin, will offer an 85-kilometer, two-day ride through the area north of Eilat. Another trail, running from Mount Hermon to the Hula Valley, is also planned for completion this year. The project is being managed by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Jewish National Fund, in cooperation with the Tourism Ministry.

According to Hillel Sussman, the parks authority official in charge of the project, a tender has already been issued for the first section, near Eilat, and planning for the entire trail was recently completed.

The completed trail network will run from the Golan Heights in the north to Eilat at Israel's southern tip. En route, it will pass through various scenic attractions and cultural and historical sites, including the Dead Sea and two major cities, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

"We want the cyclists, including tourists, to be exposed to the urban experience as well," explained Sussman. "Tel Aviv already has a network of bicycle paths with which the [national] trail will be integrated. In Jerusalem, we are working with the municipality to build a network of paths within the city."

Since its planners intend the trail to be suitable for cyclists of varying levels of ability, efforts are being made to simultaneously ensure that none of the sections are too difficult and that some of them nevertheless provide suitable challenges for professional cyclists. The 85 kilometers of trail near Eilat, for instance, will contain one 15-kilometer path meant for riders who seek a challenge.

The most difficult section, however, is expected to be the ascent to Jerusalem.

The national trail will be based in part on existing trails and in part on new ones. It will include professional signposting and parking lots for bikes at strategic locations.

"The goal is to have a town with tourism services at the end of each stretch," Sussman said. "The project as a whole will provide employment to companies that supply various services to tourists."