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Israelis Prepare for Possible Iraqi Attack - 2003-03-18

Israel has told its citizens to prepare sealed off rooms as safe havens against a possible chemical weapons attack by Iraq.

Speaking on Israel's Army Radio, Home Front Commander, Major General Yossef Mishlav told Israelis to prepare.

General Mishlav said that everyone should make sure they have a safe room or shelter within three minutes walking distance.

On Monday, Israelis were told to buy emergency items, such as plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal off safe rooms and to stock up on other supplies such as batteries, food and water.

The authorities have issued emergency preparedness booklets telling people what to do in case of a chemical or biological attack.

Israel has also called up some reservists, in particular units dealing with anti-aircraft defenses and emergency services. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is expected to hold a security cabinet meeting on Wednesday to review preparedness.

During the last Gulf war in 1991, Iraq sent dozens of Scud missiles with conventional warheads toward Israel causing some damage, but few casualties.

But authorities say the likelihood of an Iraqi Scud attack this time is slim. Military sources say they've seen no new evidence to suggest that Iraq is planning to launch missiles against Israel.

However, Israelis fear that Saddam Hussein might try to use chemical weapons to attack Israel in retaliation for a U.S.-led attack against Iraq.

While Israelis are making preparations in the event of war, Palestinians say there is little they can do.

Speaking to VOA by telephone from the West Bank city of Ramallah, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, head of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees, said Palestinians feel totally vulnerable.

"We do not have, as Palestinians, whether you are talking about the Palestinian Authority … or as civil society organizations, we have no means of protection, no instruments of protection," he said. "We don't have gas masks. We are unable even to instruct people how to act against chemical or bacteriological weapons. We simply have no means."

Dr. Barghouti also said Palestinians are very concerned that Israel will use a war against Iraq as an excuse to crack down even more on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.