JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel ordered a special call-up of reserve troops Wednesday as nervous citizens lined up at gas-mask distribution centers, preparing for possible hostilities with Syria.
With the U.S. threatening to attack Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons, Israel fears that Syria may respond by firing missiles at Israel, a close American ally. While Israeli officials sought to distance themselves from Syria's standoff with the West and believe the chances of a Syrian strike remain slim, people were clearly preparing for the possibility.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spent the day with his top security advisers discussing the situation. Afterwards, he sent a mixed message, urging people to remain calm while also approving special precautionary measures.
"There is no reason to change daily routines," he said. "At the same time we are prepared for any scenario." He said the Israeli military "is ready to defend against any threat and to respond strongly against any attempt to harm Israeli citizens."
An Israeli official briefed on the meeting said the government had ordered a "limited" call-up of reserve units to beef up civil defense preparations and to operate air-defense units near the border. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.
A military official said several hundred troops were being mobilized, though there was authorization to call up thousands more if needed. The official spoke on condition of anonymity under military guidelines.
Earlier, defense officials had confirmed the deployment of Iron Dome and Patriot missile-defense batteries in areas near the Syrian border.
Israel uses U.S.-made Patriot missile defense batteries against medium-range missiles, and the Iron Dome system is designed to intercept rockets fired from short distances of up to 70 kilometers (50 miles).
Israel says the Iron Dome system shot down one of the four rockets launched from Lebanon into northern Israel last week, and intercepted a rocket fired toward the Red Sea resort town of Eilat earlier this month. The Iron Dome system also has intercepted rockets launched from the Gaza Strip.
The defense officials said they believed the U.S. would carry out an attack on Syria within days, and that Israel would receive U.S. notification before any strike. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing confidential security assessments.
Large crowds gathered at gas-mask distribution centers across the country, waiting in long lines for protection kits.
Israeli demand for gas masks has tripled in recent days, said Maya Avishai of the Israeli postal service, which oversees gas mask distribution. About five million Israelis, roughly 60 percent of the population, now have gas masks, she said. All citizens are eligible for the kits.