Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Rush for Gas Masks as Israelis Fear Backlash

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Rush for Gas Masks as Israelis Fear Backlash

Article excerpt

Byline: SAM KILEY

From Sam Kiley in Jerusalem

ISRAEL'S population flocked to collect gas masks and checked supplies stashed in bomb shelters as its leader, Ariel Sharon, called an emergency session of his security cabinet after the air raids on Afghanistan.

The Israeli precautions came amid widespread condemnation of the raids from Arab and Muslim leaders who could rally to Osama bin Laden's call to arms in support of the Palestinians.

The murky scenes of the air attacks, played out over the Qatari al Jazeera television network, will have done nothing to reassure the Arab and Muslim world that a Bush-Blair coalition, joined by other powers including France and Germany, is anything other than a campaign against their beliefs.

With Bin Laden yesterday placing the plight of the Palestinians at the top of his agenda, the Jewish state has boosted its already rigorous security at airports.

It has established a "buffer zone" to protect its frontier with the West Bank against Palestinian infiltrators, seized a hilltop used by Palestinian snipers in Hebron, crushed scores of homes and thousands of acres of olive and orange groves in Gaza, and ringed every Palestinian town and village with tanks to protect itself against any reprisals.

An immediate military response from groups such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or Hezbollah, in Lebanon, was unlikely. Most analysts believed the political leadership of such groups would wait until the scale of the Anglo-American bombardment, and its parallel humanitarian operation, becomes clear.

But it is also clear that just as American support for Israel was one of the motives for the 11 September terrorist attacks in the US, so Israel risks paying the price for the US and British attacks on Afghanistan.

Last night Israel put on a brave face. "All the information we possess shows that at this stage, the US offensive does not raise any threats for Israel," said the defence ministry-"The security establishment is prepared for any scenario. …

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