Desert region, southern Israel. Bounded by the Sinai Peninsula and the Jordan Rift Valley, it has an area of about 4,700 sq mi (12,200 sq km). It was a pastoral region in biblical times and an important source of grain for the Roman Empire. After the Arab conquest of Palestine (7th century AD), it was left desolate, and for more than 1,200 years it had only a small population of Bedouin. Modern agricultural development began with three kibbutzim in 1943; others were founded after World War II (1939–45), when irrigation projects were initiated. Assigned to Israel in the partition of Palestine in 1948, it was the scene of clashes between Israeli and Egyptian forces in 1948–49. It is the site of many preplanned Israeli settlements, including the port city of Elat, Israel's outlet to the Red Sea. Beersheba is an important administrative centre. The region produces grain, fruit, and vegetables; mineral resources include potash, bromine, and copper.