An agreement with Israel's Defense Ministry has been signed for the first time ever to allow a contractor אם clear landmines -- thousands of them -- beginning in March. Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered the Mine Clearance Authority to move ahead with the agreement this week.
The government tender, the first of its type to be signed in Israel, calls for the scenic Ne'ot HaKikar area -- a popular tourist haven -- to be the first to be cleared.
Ne'ot HaKikar is located in the Arava Valley, south of the Dead Sea, and home to several kibbutzim and moshavim that grow specialized fresh produce for export and that are also home to several artisans.
Some 240 dunams of land are to be cleared, an area which experts consider to be extremely dangerous to the public -- especially agricultural workers, local residents and hikers in the region.
Defense Ministry Mine Clearance Authority Director Ervin Lavi noted that some of the landmines have been on the ground for more than 50 years.
"We all remember the terrible events of last year – etched in our memories – when young Daniel Yuval stepped on a mine in the Golan Heights," Lavi said. "This is just one of the many examples in which travelers and hikers have been injured when wandering into mined areas across Israel."
Lavi added that in Israel today there are approximately 130,000 dunams of either minefields, or land in which there is a concern that landmines could have been laid.
"These landmines are not essential for the security of the state," he said. "They have been laid over the course of many years, often for specific operational requirements, and are currently marked for clearance. These particular areas include foreign minefields and areas of land into which mines have drifted."
In accordance with the assigned budget, the Mine Clearance Authority is preparing a multi-year plan to clear landmines in the aforementioned regions, as well as in the north, south and center of the country, Lavi said.