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      IDF's "Training Base City" on Hold Again

      Negev explosion leads to leak of dangerous chemicals; government's plan to build a military city there on hold once again.
      By Hillel Fendel
      First Publish: 8/27/2007, 7:34 PM

      The two-billion shekel project to move the giant Tzrifin army bases in central Israel, as well as other major military offices, to a new headquarters in the Negev is once again being reconsidered.  This, in light of the recent explosion at a chemical plant in the Ramat Hovav industrial waste center, just a few kilometers north of the planned construction site.

      The government plan is to build Training Base City at the site of what is currently the Negev Junction, between Be'er Sheva and Yerucham.  More importantly, however, it is about ten kilometers south of Ramat Hovav, perceived to be a dangerous location.  Toxic smells carried by the wind, as well as the seemingly-constant threat of explosions and chemical leaks, plague the area, which is largely populated by Bedouins.

      Environmentalists and even parents' groups have long opposed the chosen site.  They say it would place young soldiers in constant danger, and its air would cause long-term problems for the soldiers who serve there. 

      In light of the explosion at the Machteshim factory in Ramat Hovav nearly two weeks ago, the IDF General Staff's Logistics and Medicine Corps has ordered a new investigation into whether the chosen site is acceptable.  Work on the new base has not yet begun, though it has been three years in the planning.

      The planned name of the new base is Ir HaBahadim, or City of the Training Bases.  It is planned to be built on an area of 1,065 dunams (263 acres, just over 1 square kilometer).  It is to include an inn for visitors, a shopping mall, a country club and theaters, and is expected to provide a welcome economic boon for the sparsely-populated area.  A recent poll shows that 70% of the Negev residents, and 59% of Israelis in general, support the establishment of the new city at the Negev Junction.  The results may be based on ignorance, however, as 65% of the respondents said that Tel Aviv's pollution is worse than that of Ramat Hovav; 74% felt that Haifa's was worse.

      Among the army bases scheduled to move to the new site are the Armaments School, the Logistics Training School, Military Police, and more. 

      Two months ago, a group of parents of junior high school students circulated a petition of protest, saying they would not let their children serve at a base so dangerously located.

      Another perceived problem is that the non-combatant soldiers serving in the remote location would be hard-pressed to return home every night.  Currently, with the bases located in central Israel, they can now easily do so.

      It is felt that in the end, Ir HaBahadim will be built - but somewhat further to the south and away from Ramat Hovav.