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Israeli ministry orders Haifa ammonia tank shutdown

Usine à Haïfa (nord d'Israël)
Wikimédia / David Shankbone
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said the ammonia container would be like "a nuclear bomb" if hit by missile

Israel's environment ministry said Wednesday it would not renew the license of an ammonia container in the northern city of Haifa, less than 10 days after a court ordered it be emptied.

The container, which can hold 12,000 tonnes of the toxin, put the public "at a risk we cannot accept", it said in a statement.

The issue was highlighted last year when Lebanon's Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said the ammonia container would be like "a nuclear bomb" if hit by his militant group's missiles.

The ministry banned Haifa Chemicals from refilling the container as of March 1.

It was, however, granted another three months to distribute the material to relevant industries as alternative sources of ammonia are located.

The decision, which follows a hearing by the ministry in December, comes after a local Haifa court accepted the municipality's appeal and ruled on February 13 that the container must be emptied within 10 days.

Haifa Chemicals had appealed the ruling, with a new court hearing set for February 26. 

A spokesman for Haifa municipality said they would continue to insist to the court that the container be emptied without delay.

The decision and court ruling come after a decades-long struggle of environmental groups opposing the tank that for 31 years has stood in the city's Mediterranean bay.

Nasrallah, whose group targeted the Haifa area in a 2006 war with Israel, echoed warnings from experts and activists cited in Israeli media that "tens of thousands of people" would be killed in case the container was struck.

Ammonia, which can be used in fertilizers and for freezing, is poisonous to humans.

A group of experts said that even without Nasrallah's firepower, the container or the boat transferring the material to it could crack or leak, exposing thousands to danger and possibly death

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