The Natural Gas Authority has given final approval for the first section of a pipeline linking the center of the country with the Dead Sea, allowing work to begin in the "coming weeks," the National Infrastructures Ministry said. "The natural gas project is one of national importance, and as the minister entrusted with the matter, I have instructed all bodies involved in the project to meet the timelines, so that the State of Israel will be ready and prepared to receive the natural gas from Egypt in the beginning of 2008," said National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer. The segment approved will run 22 kilometers from Kiryat Gat directly southward to Kibbutz Shoval, near Rahat, with as yet unapproved segments planned to continue the "Southern Line" for another 114 km. to Sdom on the Dead Sea. The project is being carried out by Israel Natural Gas Lines through Solel Boneh and Italian firm Ghizzoni. The Southern Line will connect to a gas line looping 92 km. from Ashkelon to Ashdod through Kiryat Gat, which was completed earlier this year. Ben-Eliezer's efforts to find additional natural gas suppliers brought him to Azerbaijan and Turkey in recent months, and will bring him to Russia later this month to meet with the heads of the utility giant Gazprom, the ministry said.