In Northern Israel, Residents Flock to Lone Gas Mask Distribution Center

Amid speculation on a Syria strike, Kiryat Shmona's mayor has implored army and ministers to open more distribution centers.

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As the chatter and speculation about a possible U.S. strike on Syria continue, Israelis have flocked to gas mask distribution centers across the country to prepare for a potential Syrian retaliatory attack. Yet in all of northern Israel - the area located closest to the border with Syria - there is only one such distribution center, in Haifa, and area residents on Wednesday expressed anger that no additional gas mask distribution centers have been opened.

Inhabitants of northern Israel on Wednesday experienced long waits at the lone center on Hanevi’im Street in Haifa, and at least one mayor of another northern town demanded that the army’s Home Front Command open additional distribution centers.

Kiryat Shmona Mayor Nissim Malka instructed municipal department heads to continue preparing for an emergency situation, and asked the department head in charge of the city’s bomb shelters to prepare them in case of need. Kiryat Shmona security workers also held a meeting to survey possible developments in the situation related to Syria, yet decided not to adopt any special measures just yet on the recommendation of the army.

Malka appealed to army representatives to open a gas mask distribution center for residents of the Upper Galilee. He also implored the public security and home front defense ministers to act fast to open another distribution center in Kiryat Shmona.

“There’s a quiet and restrained atmosphere in the city, and there seem to be fewer people on the streets,” said one Kiryat Shmona resident named Moshe. “It’s an unpleasant feeling, but I assume that it is shared by the entire Israeli population.”

Both the Kiryat Shmona and Tiberias municipalities held meetings that included a refresher course on emergency procedures.

Despite the tension in the north, some managers of guest houses and hotels in the area report that their occupancy rates for the upcoming Jewish holiday season remain high. The Pastoral Hotel on Kibbutz Kfar Blum, the largest hotel in the area, is expecting full occupancy this coming weekend and 96 percent occupancy on Rosh Hashanah. So far there have been no cancellations for rooms ordered for this weekend or for the holiday next week.

Shefi Mor, director of tourism at Merom HaGolan in the northern Golan Heights, said that all 78 rooms in the vacation village are full. “If we had another 50 rooms, they would be full too," he said.

Israelis waiting for gas masks in Haifa on Thursday, August 29.Credit: Rami Chelouche

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