Israelis lined up at gas-mask distribution centers Wednesday and communities bordering Syria readied bomb shelters as top government officials held emergency meetings amid fears of a possible Syrian attack on Israel. Israel also deployed additional missile defense systems near the country's border with Syria.
Supported by allies in the West, the U.S. has signaled that it may soon strike Syria in response to its alleged use of chemical weapons last week. That has raised speculation that Syria might retaliate with an attack on Israel, a close U.S. ally.
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 and all of the country's citizens are eligible for them, she said.
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A large crowd gathered a Tel Aviv distribution center Wednesday, where Galia Cohen was among those waiting in line for hours to collect free masks for herself and her family.
"I have two children and I am afraid for my children," she said.
Sivan Yehieli, chairman of a civilian emergency response committee along Israel's northern border with Syria and Lebanon, told Army Radio that towns in the region were preparing for a possible attack, readying bomb shelters and drilling school children on how to flee to shelters.
"The citizens need to be prepared just like the army," said Yehieli. "We don't want to find ourselves surprised."