Gas Mask Distribution Begins

Israel tested its gas mask distribution system Sunday in three small urban centers.

The dress rehearsal was observed by scores of Israel Defense Force officers, civil defense officials and civil guard volunteers in Yokne’am, Ofakim and Kfar Yona.

The purpose was to see how the system worked and to propose changes before the nation-wide distribution begins on Oct. 15.

Gas masks and poison gas antidote kits will be provided for Israel’s 4.5 million inhabitants, including Arabs and other minorities and Palestinians in the administered territories.

Civil defense officials say it will be the largest allocation of gas masks undertaken in any country since the end of World War II.

There has been a subsiding of the anxiety which greeted the IDF’s announcement last week that the distribution of gas masks was imminent. But the public as well as the military and political leaders are keeping a watchful eye on events in the Persian Gulf, where an international force led by the United States has massed to confront Iraq.

Although Israel is not directly involved at this juncture, it has been the target of threats by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The Gulf crisis is considered bound to have repercussions here but it remains uncertain what form they will take.

Meanwhile, about 25,000 specially designed gas masks have been ordered by Rafah, the national medical association, for use by ultra- Orthodox men who refuse to shave their beards.

Normal gas masks cannot form an airtight seal around a heavily bearded face.

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