‘5 atom bombs’: 3,000 local Israelis protest ammonia facility with potential to kill 600K people

‘5 atom bombs’: 3,000 local Israelis protest ammonia facility with potential to kill 600K people
Around 3,000 people gathered outside Haifa District Court on Sunday to demand the closure of an ammonia storage facility that is said to be potentially more deadly than five of the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima.

Judges in the district court deliberated for around three hours as a crowd of environmental protesters gathered outside.

Middle and high schools around Haifa and nearby towns also went on strike, with all classes cancelled from 8am till noon to allow the students to take part in the protest.
“The ammonia tank endangers and threatens hundreds of thousands of citizens living in the Haifa district. I call on all teenagers to ask the hard questions, create a discourse, become actively involved and go and protest for the relocation of the ammonia tank,” said Haifa District Student Council Chairman Noy Krief, as quoted by Ynet.

In an earlier ruling, Haifa’s Court for Local Affairs gave the Haifa Group, the fertilizer producer that operates the tank, until February 22 to remove its chemicals from the facility. Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry also said it would not renew the tank’s permit when it expires on March 1.

After initially saying it would comply with the court’s decision, the company filed a last-minute appeal, accusing Haifa’s authorities of trying to “sow fear among the public,” arguing that its facility is crucial to the local economy and closing it will cost jobs. It was granted a stay until Sunday’s hearing.

The facility was declared a danger to public health after the Technion Institute of Technology published an expert report in January, which said the site had not been properly inspected since it was built 30 years ago. If the ammonia tank was to rupture, for example, as the result of an earthquake or terrorist attack, the released gas could suffocate 16,000 people. This fact was not lost on Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who threatened to launch rockets at Haifa’s ammonia tanks, as well as a nuclear facility in Dimona, should a conflict erupt with Israel.

“I call on Israel not only to empty the ammonia tank in Haifa, but also to dismantle the nuclear reactor in Dimona. Our military capabilities will strike Israel and its settlements,” he said in a televised speech, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Apparently picking up on the idea, one of the protesters outside the court dressed up as Nasrallah for the rally.

נסראללה בחוץ, קורא להשאיר את המיכל. השופטת באולם. עורכי הדין של חיפה כימיקלים לא כאן!!!! @haifacity

However, the shipments of ammonia the facility receives through the city’s port each month pose an even graver threat. If the delivery ship’s cargo leaked into the air, it could kill as many as 600,000 people in the local area.

“To bring down the Twin Towers in New York, the terrorists did not need dozens of tons of explosives; rather, they realized the destructive potential of a giant passenger plane, full of fuel, traveling at high speeds,” the report read, noting “the Hezbollah secretary-general was absolutely right about the inherent destructive potential of the container and, more important, of the ammonia ship.”

“The ammonia ship that enters the Haifa Bay every four weeks is akin to a ship carrying five primed atom bombs, each more deadly than the one dropped on Hiroshima,” the report added.

The report’s findings prompted Jameela Hardal Wakim, leader of an NGO called Citizens for the Environment, to press Haifa Municipality to request that the Local Affairs Court issue an immediate order to shut down the tank. This was granted on February 12, until the Haifa Group filed its appeal.

Former Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin has criticized the Haifa Group for not pursuing alternatives, such as moving the facility to the southern Negev desert.

“It is up to the government to close the plant and remove this horrific danger from the citizens of Haifa and North,” he said, as quoted by the Jerusalem Post.

“The suitable solution to this situation is reopening it in Mishor Rotem, and by doing that it would also create places of work in the South.

“Luckily, the court saved the public from danger, and its decision, which motivated the government to act, might have prevented a large-scale disaster,” he said.

Judge Tamar Sharon Netanel promised that the District Court would reach a decision by Wednesday at the latest, the Times of Israel reported.

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West Mosul trap: Iraqi forces retake 2 districts, up to 800,000 civilians caught in battle zone

Iraqi police commandos have captured two neighborhoods in west Mosul on Sunday amid fierce clashes with Islamic State militants. The advance is ongoing amid UN concerns that the assault could force up to 400,000 civilians to flee, if they manage it.

RUPTLY’s new footage from Mosul shows displaced residents from the western Maamoun district arriving at the government-controlled al-Jadaa camp in Mosul, Sunday, as Iraqi forces push deeper into the city.

About 1,000 civilians, predominantly women and children, left Mosul on Saturday and were taken to humanitarian camps located to the south of the city, according to Reuters.

The Tayaran neighborhood is now under the “full control” of Iraqi forces, Maj-Gen. Haider al-Maturi said Sunday, according to AP. IS militants deployed at least 10 suicide car bombs, but only one of them reached its target. Two policeman were killed and five were wounded, al-Maturi said.Two militants, one of Iraqi decent and one foreigner who speaks Russian, were arrested.

The other neighborhood, Mamun, was “fully liberated” as well, Brig-Gen. Haider Fadhil said, adding that 15 suicide car bombs were deployed, but none of them hit the troops.

“We are clearing [the neighborhood] up and beefing up fortifications,” he added. Nearly 3,000 people fled Mamun on Sunday, Iraqi special forces Brig-Gen. Salam Hashed said. Some 2,500 civilians fled the previous day.

Elisabeth Koek, advocacy and information adviser at the Norwegian Refugee Council in Iraq, told RT that civilians living in the old city are “at immediate risk.”

“The Iraqi security forces will have to take every precaution for civilian lives and civilian infrastructure, which means that we would plead that no heavy artillery is used, no heavy mortars are used,” Koek noted, also saying that civilians’ safety must be prioritized.

“We are prepared to host people in displacement camps,” Koek said, but added that the main issue is, “How do people get out?”

“We hear stories of people going through incredibly dangerous journeys through territories that could be potentially mined,” Koek said, providing an example of a family of more than 10 people that managed to cross the frontline. The family decided to take their animals with them and had to use duct tape to keep them quiet.

“Once people flee, once they manage to find a safe route out, they have access to a tent, to water, there will be medical services for people there and protection”. 

Sara Alazawqari, Red Cross spokesperson for Iraq, told RT that “it’s very hard for people in Mosul to try and flee the city.”

“This [western] side has been cut off from food supplies, we’ve had a lot of reports of people not having food, water and, in addition it’s extremely cold, hospitals have been reporting that there is not enough medicine, infrastructure has been damaged, [including] roads and bridges.” 

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) reported that families in Mosul are struggling with a critical shortage of food and drinking water, with three out of five people using untreated water from wells for drinking and cooking.

“Food prices in western Mosul are almost double those in eastern Mosul,” said Sally Haydock, WFP representative in the country, according to the UN News Centre.

The Telegraph reported the heartbreaking story of a two-month-old baby girl who was killed in an explosion that destroyed the home of her family. Her relatives buried her in a grave among the rubble of other destroyed buildings, after holding a makeshift funeral ceremony.

By UN estimates, between 750,000 and 800,000 civilians are in Mosul’s western districts. The United Nations says up to 400,000 people may have to leave their homes during the new offensive as food and fuel runs out in western Mosul.

If so, the number of the displaced people would be twice as big as it was in eastern Mosul.

“Yesterday, some 350 people arrived at a screening site in Hammam al Alil, some 30km southeast of Mosul, having left their homes in Abu Saif village and surrounding areas near Mosul city airport,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Friday.

“Almost 162,000 people are currently internally displaced as a result of fighting in Mosul,” he added.

In January, when east Mosul was recaptured, the UN reported that almost half of all the casualties were civilians.

Iraqi government forces are aiming to win back a bridge across the River Tigris that would link the west bank with the already retaken eastern part of the city, Reuters reports. The move would shift the operation to its most active and, as aid and human rights organizations have warned, most dangerous phase.

The bridge along with four others was damaged both in US-led airstrikes and by Islamic State militants. It is to be mended by army engineers that would allow to bring in reinforcements and supplies, Colonel Falah al-Wabdan of the Interior Ministry’s Rapid Response unit said, Reuters reported Sunday.

The combat operation in heavily populated west Mosul, containing the old city with its narrow alleyways, is expected to be a tough challenge for Iraqi forces. The narrow streets won’t allow armored vehicles and tanks to go through, so the fighting is likely to turn into hand-to-hand combat, which puts civilians in much greater danger.

On Wednesday, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq Lisa Grande told RT that she is “deeply concerned” about the dire threat the civilian population faces as the offensive goes to west Mosul.

“Even before the fighting began in many of the districts, there was already a humanitarian crisis in western districts,” Grande said, referring to soaring food prices, the lack of electricity and medicine.

Annie Machon, a former MI5 intelligence officer, told RT that the battle for west Mosul is likely to bring a great number of casualties, both among civilians and soldiers.

“I think west Mosul will be an incredibly difficult nut to crack, because it’s a very ancient city, there are a lot of small alleys and armed vehicles can’t go down those narrow alleys. There will be collateral damage, there will be civilian deaths,” Machon said Tuesday.

IS fighters have reportedly set up a network of tunnels that would allow them to easily hide, watch over Iraqi soldiers and easily blend in with local residents.

On Thursday, Iraqi forces managed to capture the city’s airport, which is expected to be used as a support zone.

Earlier this week, nearly 4,000 people killed by IS militants were found buried in the Khasfa sinkhole located near the Baghdad-Mosul highway, not far from Mosul, The Telegraph reported, citing police, activists and local residents.

Up to 6,000 IS militants could be inside Mosul, according to Iraqi forces’ estimates at the start of operations, Reuters reported. Nearly 3,300 have been killed in the battle so far.

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‘Stay out of Iranian waters:’ Iran’s Revolutionary Guard slams Saudi drills

‘Stay out of Iranian waters:’ Iran’s Revolutionary Guard slams Saudi drills
Any vessels taking part in the ongoing war games in the Persian Gulf should stay well away from Iranian waters and avoid provocations, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy has warned.

“The Revolutionary Guards naval forces believe this war game is mainly to create tension and destabilize the Persian Gulf,” read the statement on the Tasnim news agency website. “As a result, none of the military vessels participating in the maneuvers have any right whatsoever to cross the territorial waters of the Islamic Republic of Iran or even pass close by the territorial waters of the Islamic Republic because we cannot guarantee safe passage.”

The IRGC statement added that the Guard is ready to react to any behavior they perceive as threats.

“The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy is at full readiness to ensure stability in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, and any effort to disturb peace and security will be dealt with in an instant,” it said.

Saudi Arabia launched live-fire exercises involving warships, speedboats, marines, and special forces in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz on Tuesday.

According to Rear Admiral Al-Qahtani, the exercises are intended to “raise the combat readiness and professional performance” of the naval forces in order to protect “the marine interests of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia against any possible aggression,” as quoted by the Saudi Press Agency.

The drills, known as Gulf Shield 1, come during a period of renewed tension between the Sunni kingdom and its rival, Shia-majority Iran, which lies on the opposite side of the Gulf. The regional powers are at odds over conflicts in Yemen and Syria, backing rival Sunni and Shiite factions and accusing one another of supporting terrorism. The two countries broke off diplomatic relations in January after the Saudi embassy in Tehran was ransacked in reaction to the Saudi’s execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

The Strait of Hormuz, where some of the exercises are taking place, is one of the world’s most important oil shipping routes. In August, US officials accused IRGC boats of “harassing” one of their warships as it was sailing nearby. The United States is an ally of Riyadh and maintains a military presence in the region.

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