Capitalizing on a legal technicality aimed at breaking Bezeq's monopoly over Israel's telecommunications system, cellular companies have illegally been placing their antennas - sometimes artfully camouflaged - on the roofs of residential buildings. Last week, after issuing a warning that went unheeded, the Jerusalem municipality removed an antenna that had been erected without a building permit for the first time. If the move represents a precedent, it could impact the way the highly-competitive cellular industry does business in the city. The incident began when the Department of Building Supervision received a complaint regarding the roof of a residential building on Rehov Shamir, where cellular broadcasting devices had been disguised in a solar heater and an air-conditioner. Together with the Environmental Ministry, municipal officials investigated the situation and discovered that the camouflaged antennas had been built without the proper building permits. Following a warning, the camouflaged antenna was removed. But it was replaced shortly after by yet another new device - that also lacked a permit. Building supervision officials then issued a demolition warrant for the antenna. "Usually, we don't do this," says Municipal Environment and Radiation Coordinator Amiram Rotem. "The municipality decided to take action when its initial warnings were ignored." The battle over cell phone broadcasting devices has been raging for several years, with activists concerned about potential adverse health effects and damage to property value. While the Environment Ministry and other regulatory organizations deny any link between broadcasting antennas and disease, the public's perception about cancer-causing radiation has led to angry protests from urban activists who want the antennas out of their neighborhoods. Rotem denies that the municipality is cracking down on illegal antennas because of pressure from environmental activists. "This is a legal issue," he insists. "These companies are exploiting every loophole. When they don't get the proper permits, when they don't respond to warnings - we have a responsibility to take action. This is what we are doing." In a country where there is demand for over 7 million cellular phones, the market and regulatory bodies have had to cope with sustaining the infrastructure that supports them. National Zoning Plan 36 requires cell phone companies to get a building permit before erecting any antennas. However, providers have been getting craftier and craftier, officials say, at simply installing their broadcasting devices without permission from authorities. Providers hide their antennas from plain sight, camouflaged to look like air-conditioners, solar heaters, and water towers. Building owners, who can receive handsome payments for allowing cellular transmission devices on their properties, have profited from the lack of regard for building permits. Tammi Gannot, legal adviser at Adam, Teva Va'Din (the Israel Union for Environmental Defense), says that the current system is "seriously flawed." Gannot explains that the problem lies in the system of permits. "There is no public participation in the process and the legislation gives the municipality almost no discretion in issuing permits." Gannot called the municipality's move "an important step." The company responsible for the construction of the antenna declined to respond to In Jerusalem's queries.

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