Israeli Court Halts "Secret" Plant Expansion
[published either 1998-09-24 or 1998-09-25]
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's High Court Thursday suspended
government plans to expand a top-secret scientific facility where
nearby residents fear biological weapons are being produced, the local
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said the project was on hold only until a state defense agency reviews the facility's own environmental impact study. But Mayor Yossi Shvo of Nes Ziona, the town which is home to the biological institute, said the court approved an agreement he elicited from the state to hold up construction pending the completion of an independent study.
``The High Court of Justice decided to accept our request to freeze the expansion of the institute while conducting an environmental study, and based on the findings, the court will make a decision on the expansion,'' the mayor told Reuters. Israel has never said it makes biological or chemical weapons but officials have accused Arab countries hostile to Israel of producing them.
Citing a need to uphold state security, Israel has for years declined comment on reports in France and elsewhere that the Nes Ziona institute was working on biological and chemical weapons. In the face of the news reports, the mayor of the growing suburban community of 25,000 residents south of Tel Aviv went to court to stop the institute's plans to expand by about 14 acres (5.6 hectares). He emphasized someone without a vested interest should investigate the potential dangers to area residents and not the deputy director-general of the Environment Ministry as proposed by the government.
A government statement said the mayor agreed to drop his suit while the state Defense Facilities Committee, which is considering the expansion request, weighs an environmental report already conducted at the institute's initiative. But it was unclear whether this would meet the mayor's concerns. The statement, issued by the prime minister's office which is ultimately responsible for the Nes Ziona facility, made no mention of a new outside study.
``The biological institute has been in operation where it's at since 1952 without any mishaps and has never endangered its environment and never have work accidents occurred there in which workers have been killed,'' Netanyahu's office said. The plant, hidden behind high walls in an industrial area, has long been shrouded in secrecy. It has about 300 workers, 120 of them scientists.
The former deputy head of the Nes Ziona plant, 80-year-old Marcus
Klingberg, was freed to house arrest only last week after serving
nearly 16 years of a 20-year sentence for spying for the former Soviet