800 Israeli layoffs as Hezbollah-threatened ammonia tank closes

Jerusalem (AFP) –


Around 800 people will be laid off in the court-ordered closure of a major Israeli ammonia storage facility previously threatened by Hezbollah, the owners announced Wednesday.

The head of US-owned Haifa Chemicals, Jules Trump, told Israeli army radio the company was dismissing 800 workers in two plants that processed the ammonia.

"We have lost hundreds of millions of shekels (tens of millions of dollars) in recent months because, contrary to the promises of the government, there is no alternative solution on the horizon," he said.

The Israeli Supreme Court last week confirmed a ruling ordering the closure of the 12,000 tonne facility located in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, giving the company until September 18 to empty it completely.

The ruling brought to an end a years-long legal battle over the site.

Residents and environmentalists had been warning of the risks of an accident or explosion at the container in the densely populated Mediterranean port city.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in 2016 that a missile strike on the tank would have the effect of a "nuclear bomb," increasing calls for its closure.

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, used in fertilisers, is poisonous to humans.

Haifa Chemicals sells some of the ammonia that the group imports to chemical plants, weapons companies and wastewater treatment plants.