JERUSALEM, Aug. 12 (Xinhua) -- An operation to clear minefields near Israel's Red Sea port of Eilat has been successfully completed, the Defense Ministry announced on Monday.
The ministry's Mine Clearing Authority (MCA) in recent days finished clearing 500 dunams (123 acres) of minefields that have been found in the vicinity of Eilat and along hundreds of kilometers of highway in the southern Arava Desert, according to a statement.
The Israeli and Egyptian militaries laid the fields since 1968 and throughout the 1970s, the ministry said, estimating that they contained upwards of 10,000 anti-personnel mines.
"The Eilat area is mine-free. The area was a 'ticking bomb' for decades and will soon be utilized by the state for the benefit of civilians," Marcel Aviv, deputy director of the MCA, said in a statement.
In 2011, the MCA was allocated a modest annual budget of NIS 27 million (7.6 million U.S. dollars) for a massive multi-year project to clear the minefields strewn along Israel's borders with Syria, Egypt and Jordan -- in cooperation with the Israeli army's Combat Engineering Corps.
MCA Director Ervin Lavie said mine-clearing operations will extend in the near future to large areas in the Golan Heights and other parts of northern Israel.
Once cleared, the areas will be utilized for agriculture, residential construction, commerce and tourism, while others will be designated protected nature reserves, the Defense Ministry said.