BEIRUT // Israel's failure to make reparations for environmental damage inflicted on Lebanon and surrounding countries during the July 2006 war with Hizbollah will draw a rebuke next month from the UN secretary general, according to Lebanese and UN officials. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, plans to ask the Israeli government to compensate Lebanon, neighbouring countries and the UN with as much as US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn) to assist with cleaning up damage to the eastern Mediterranean coastline from about 15,000 metric tonnes of fuel oil spilled into the sea when Israeli jets bombed a major electricity plant in Jiyeh, Lebanon.
Just days into the war between Hizbollah and Israel, IDF planes repeatedly bombed the oil storage tanks, which held more than 40,000 tonnes of fuel that fed Lebanon's largest electricity generating plant and were located just outside the southern city of Sidon. In a visit immediately after a wave of bombings on July 15, a journalist witnessed huge amounts of flaming fuel oil melting the sandy earth around the plant into sheets of glass, as well as clear evidence the tanks were leaking oil into the ocean. The smoke from the fire could be seen from almost 100km away and oil soot covered much of the surrounding areas for months afterwards. Within days of the attacks, a large oil slick formed off the coast of Lebanon, covering the shoreline between Sidon and Tripoli with a thick coat of oil that killed marine and wildlife, turned beaches into tar pits and, in one case cited by the World Bank, produced a 50,000 sq metre "carpet" of oil sunken below the sea just off the coast of Sidon. While the majority of the damage was contained to Lebanon's beaches - which form a critical aspect of the country's tourist-based economy - there have been reports of oil washing ashore in both Syria and Turkey. As a result of the international nature of the damage, the UN has been unsuccessfully pressuring Israel to pay for a regional cleanup effort. A World Bank study commissioned by the UN and Lebanon determined the $1bn figure, although most experts consider that figure low. An official at the environment ministry in Beirut said the Lebanese government did not know if Israel would pay the sum or if it would, in any case, cover the cost of the damage. Speaking on condition of anonymity, he declined to elaborate on the estimated economic or environmental cost of the oil spill. The issue of compensation for such an act of war is extremely complicated under international law, according to diplomatic officials familiar with the situation in Beirut, with the UN having little authority to force Israel to make payments unless backed by a Security Council resolution. The United States would probably veto any strong resolution against Israel, according the Beirut diplomatic sources. But political realities have not stopped Mr Ban from pushing the issue repeatedly in the past, and UN officials expect the secretary general to introduce a report on the environmental impact of the war, highlighting the damage done by the Jiyeh spill, sometime in October. This is not the first time Mr Ban has pushed the issue on Israeli actions towards Lebanon in the 2006 war and the resulting environmental damage. In a 2007 report, he called upon the Israelis to honour international law on these issues, and noted that attempts by the United Nations to discuss the situation had gone ignored. Mr Ban said at the time: "The government of Israel has yet to assume its responsibility" and noted that the UN Environment Programme had sent letters to Israel in Aug 2007 and June 2008.
"No response has been received to either of those communications. In the absence of an official response from Israel, it is difficult to report on progress," Mr Ban said at the time of the second letter. The report asked Israel to address its responsibilities to the region as a whole and to take steps to mitigate the environmental effect of not just the Jiyeh bombings, but damage done throughout Lebanon and the region during to the 34-day war. Israel, Mr Ban wrote, needs "to take the necessary actions towards assuming responsibility for prompt and adequate compensation to the government of Lebanon". According to an environmental expert working with Greenpeace, the damage done by the oil spill, although significant, could be managed with proper funding, although it will require a broader environmental effort than Lebanon is capable of. "We did a study to estimate the damage and we found out that it's not as bad" as past spills in other countries, said Yassmean Helow, the marine campaign co-ordinator for Greenpeace Lebanon. "The sea in Lebanon can recover from this particular damage," he said, but it is not the only problem environmentalists face. "[We must] work with the [local population] to control other damage done to the marine life such as the garbage dumping on the sea shores, other damage is the oil dumping from [arriving or departing] ships." Ahmad, 58, has been a fisherman in Sidon since the age of 10 and he claims to have never seen such small catches and poor quality fish in his lifetime. "The amount of fish we are getting now is a quarter of what we used to get before the summer 2006 war, or before the fuel oil was spilled in the sea," he said. "The oysters are not growing anymore and it became hard to find a lot of them. We find them dead and floating in the sea. Plus the taste is different now, and the size is different. [There are] no more healthy fish anymore. It's not fair for us and not fair for the fish in the sea." email@example.com