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IDF Chief Plays Down Chance Iraq Will Use Chemical Weapons

Although the public distribution of gas masks is to begin this month, the probability is slight that Saddam Hussein of Iraq will use chemical or conventional weapons, Gen. Dan Shomron, the Israel Defense Force chief of staff, told Knesset members Tuesday.

Israel has ample time to complete the distribution of the masks and poison gas antidote kits to the entire population, Shomron told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in a briefing on the Persian Gulf crisis.

Some members expressed concern that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip would use the masks to protect against tear gas in clashes with security forces.

Shomron replied, “We have a solution to this,” but did not elaborate.

He spoke a day after the IDF announced that gas mask distribution would begin this month instead of at the end of the year, as previously planned. It was, however, stressed that there is no emergency.

Israel gave the United States advance notice of its revised plans, which have been conveyed through “third parties” to the Arab countries, including Iraq, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s media adviser Avi Pazner said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, notices are being mailed by the IDF and civil defense authorities informing people when and where they can pick up their kits. Distribution will be from community centers and school buildings after classes.

An IDF spokesman and a civil defense official answered questions on an Israel Radio call-in program Tuesday.

They informed the public that gas masks will not be provided for pets and advised bearded men to shave because the masks cannot accommodate beards.

IDF said special arrangements have been made to supply immigrants and tourists with the protective kits.

While immigration is booming, tourism is in a slump, owing in part to the Persian Gulf situation.

Hotels are reporting severe declines in bookings, a situation expected to worsen after the High Holiday season, a period of traditionally high tourism.

Scandinavian and Swiss travel bureaus have canceled winter charter tours. Several international conventions were canceled, and those still booked report attendance will be lower than expected.

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