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      Golan Heights Residents Calm Amid Chemical War Fears

      Golan Heights residents near the Syrian border say “business is as usual” despite nearby bombings; deny reports of gas mask shipments.
      By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
      First Publish: 7/25/2012, 11:09 AM

      Arabs and Jews collect gas mask kits in Mevasseret Zion near Jerusalem
      Arabs and Jews collect gas mask kits in Mevasseret Zion near Jerusalem
      Reuters

      Golan Heights residents near the Syrian border say “business is a usual” despite the sound of nearby bombings. Residents deny reports that officials have distributed gas masks.

      The Newser news website reported Wednesday that “worried Israeli officials are beginning to distribute new gas masks to residents living close to the Syrian border” following Syria’s admission that it has chemical weapons and will use them if a foreign force intervenes in the raging civil war. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has warned that Israel will act “immediately” if the non-conventional weapons reach Hizbullah terrorists.

      A resident of the Alonei Bashan community, located only 800 meters (half a mile) from the border, told Arutz Sheva Wednesday morning, “Everyone is carrying on as usual, and children ride their bicycles outside.” She expressed surprise at the report of gas mask distribution, although there is a possibility that the IDF is making them available to soldiers on the border.

      She added, “There is no reason to be afraid. We have HaShem (the Almighty) guarding us.”

      Even before Syria’s admission to possessing chemical weapons, it was widely known that Syrian President Bashar Assad has stockpiled the largest chemical weapons arsenal in the world. The chemicals include lethal nerve agents and can be dropped from planes or fired by missiles and artillery.

      Defense Minister Ehud Barak said earlier this week, "At the moment, the entire non-conventional weapons system is under the full control of the regime."

      The rhetoric stoked demand in Israel for state-funded gas masks, which have been distributed over the last few years as part of the country's wider preparations for a possible showdown over arch-foe Iran's disputed nuclear program, Reuters reported.

      The Israel Postal Company, which distributes them for the military, said 3,700 gas masks were handed out on Monday, up from the daily average of 2,200, the news agency added.

      "The increase was without a doubt connected to Syria," said company spokesman Merav Lapidot.

      Amos Yadlin, former commander of Israel's military intelligence, told Army Radio, "I think that the panic which is being instilled in the public concerning Syrian chemical weapons is superfluous and it would be best to 'turn down the volume'."

      "Against the non-conventional threat it would be better to play up Israel's deterrent factor," Yadlin said, in an apparent reference to superior Israeli weaponry, including missile shields.