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Two Tel Aviv beaches were closed to the public for bathing yesterday as there were not enough lifeguards to man them. The Interior Ministry prohibited bathing at the city's Tzuk beach in the morning and at Hilton beach later in the day.

In the past week, only 36 of Tel Aviv's 52 lifeguards have reported for work. As Interior Ministry regulations require at least three lifeguards at every station, the remaining 36 lifeguards were able to operate 12 of the city's 13 stations.

The municipality said the staff shortage increased later in the day, forcing it to close down a second beach.

The Hilton beach was also closed for bathing on Sunday and Tuesday of this week for the same reason, as well as at the beginning of July.

To the frustration of Tzuk beachgoers, inspectors cordoned off the waterline, saying bathing was forbidden. They also hoisted a black flag at the lifeguard tower.

"They said the lifeguards were sick," said Ronit Levy, who arrived at the Tzuk beach from Kfar Sirkin, seeking respite from the scorching heat. "It's strange they have no one to replace them with. It isn't fair."

"If a teacher is sick, does the classroom shut down? They must have substitute lifeguards," she added.

Etti Rosen, Leika Golan and Golan's son David, who live in Moscow and came on vacation, were crestfallen. "The boy is disappointed. He's bored here," Golan said.

The municipality released the following statement: "In the past week, it so happened that the municipal lifeguards were short-staffed. Consequently and according to regulations, the lifeguards were redeployed along the declared beaches. Despite the staff shortage, all but two of the lifeguard stations were manned. The city is constantly looking to recruit new lifeguards, but unfortunately there isn't even one lifeguard on the waiting list right now."

The Interior Ministry said yesterday that since the start of the 2010 bathing season, 18 people have died off Israel's shores. An average of 45 people drown annually, most of them men. From 1992 to 2008, 731 people drowned in Israel. Most of them entered the water on beaches that had been banned for bathing, or after bathing hours, when the lifeguards were off duty.

The ministry also said that the number of Arab Israelis who have drowned is out of proportion in terms of their ratio to the general population.

The ministry launched a television campaign yesterday, under the slogan: "If there's no lifeguard don't enter the water, ever." The campaign was produced by the Government Advertising Agency and will be broadcast on Channels 1 (11 ), 2 (22 ), 9 and Educational TV. In the ultra-Orthodox media, the ads will appear under the slogan "In the sea we don't count on miracles."