Israel accuses Iran of link to oil spill off its shores
TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Iran is linked to a recent oil spill off Israel's shores that caused major ecological damage, an Israeli minister said on Wednesday, calling the incident environmental terrorism.
The ship that caused the spill was a Libyan-owned pirate ship that set sail from Iran through the Persian Gulf without radio contact, then passed through the Suez Canal, Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel said.
The ship, a crude oil tanker called Emerald, which carries a Panamanian flag, entered Israeli waters in the east Mediterranean and again turned off its radios for almost a full day, polluting the sea between Feb. 1-2, she said in a briefing to reporters.
From there, the ship continued to Syria, carrying pirated cargo from Iran, she said.
"Iran is (conducting) terrorism by damaging the environment, and (when) Iran is damaging the environment it isn't just hurting the state of Israel," Gamliel said.
The ministry presented what it said was strong "circumstantial evidence" that this was the ship behind the spill, though it did not have "forensic evidence". It said it also ruled out any other source.
There was no immediate comment from Iran.
The accusation could further increase tensions between Israel and Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week blamed Iran for an explosion aboard an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman last week, an accusation rejected by Tehran.
The oil spill blackened beaches up and down Israel's coast and clumps of sticky black tar have washed up on the coasts of south Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, as well.
Environmental groups are calling it an ecological disaster that could take years to clean up.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub and Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Alexandra Hudson)
© Copyright Reuters Ltd. All rights reserved. The information contained in this news report may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of Reuters Ltd.