Cabinet to vote on construction of new Eilat airport

Timna runway would replace current "environmental hazard"; Green Movement co-chairman says airport move is "good thing."

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July 19, 2011 03:34
3 minute read.
The southern city of Eilat.

Eilat 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

 
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The cabinet will vote this Sunday on building the proposed international airport just north of Eilat in the Timna Valley, the Prime Minister’s Office announced on Monday.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made the announcement at a meeting of the Ministerial Committee on the Development of Eilat, which he heads.

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At the meeting, plans were unveiled to convert the port of Eilat and the southern coastal strip into an area for further hotel construction, his office said in a statement.

The prime minister also directed attention to accelerating the construction of the fence along the border with Egypt, in order to reduce illegal infiltration, the statement said.

If approved, the Timna airport is expected to replace the current one in the city of Eilat and will shuttle in European tourists directly to Israel’s south without a stop at Ben- Gurion.

Constructing the new airport, to be named after astronaut Col. Ilan Ramon, will help strengthen the region’s economy, the prime minister’s office said.



Local green activists and residents said they favored construction of an airport at that location.

“That airport is a good thing in my mind,” Green Movement co-chairman Prof. Alon Tal of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev told The Jerusalem Post on Monday evening. “The existing airport in Eilat is an environmental hazard.”

The current airport, Tal said, is a harbor of air pollution and noise and is “an accident waiting to happen,” as flights land right next to adjacent hotels.

“It creates a divide between the city and the tourism on the other side of the airport – the tourists never venture into the city,” he added.

Tal said he had been involved in the original fight about the airport’s relocation about a decade ago, when the airport was slated to move to Ein Avrona, a nature reserve replete with gazelles and the highest concentration of acacia trees in Israel.

“We had a huge campaign with the Arava Institute and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel involved, and environmentalists from Jordan,” Tal said. “Eventually [Amnon Lipkin-] Shakak, then-minister of transportation, asked, ‘Where do you want it?’” Collectively, the groups decided on Timna, as the area is already damaged from all the copper mining performed there, according to Tal.

The decision was made about six or seven years ago now, after a local committee reviewed a group of four options, Eilot Region chairman Udi Gat said.

“It’s the right place because it’s an empty place – there are no trees, no animals,” Gat said. “It’s a good decision to take it out of the city.”

Tal agreed. “It’s better to have it there,” he said. “The Green Movement says that this is an important development for the city of Eilat – to get the airport out of the city, bring the airport to a safer environment and use it to leverage restoration of a contaminated area.”

Gat was also pleased about the new international airport because he felt it would place Eilat and Eilot more “in the center of the tourist map.

“Big planes, small planes from all over the world will be able to land directly in this airport,” he said.

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