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'Keep calm and carry on' message to worried Israelis

Lines for gas masks lengthened amid expectations of a US-led military strike against neighbouring Syria.

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(Brandbook/Flickr Commons)

Israeli media and officials sought to calm the public on Thursday, as queues for gas masks lengthened amid expectations of a US-led military strike against neighbouring Syria.

"Keep calm and carry on" was the headline of a front-page analysis in the Jerusalem Post, echoing a World War II British government slogan.

Most media on Thursday sought to ease fears of a Syrian backlash against staunch US ally Israel, which insists it is not a party to events across its northern border.

"With (Israeli) military intelligence keeping more eyes and ears open to enemy activity than ever before, the combination of Israeli's firepower and accurate intelligence would spell very bad news for the Assad regime should it choose to target Israel in response to an attack on Syria by the United States," the Post wrote.

"Defense officials are quite confident he will not commence hostilities against Israel," it added. "Doing so would likely sign his regime's death certificate."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's eight-member security cabinet in Wednesday authorised a limited call-up of reservists but the premier said in a statement that members of the public had "no reason to change their routines."

Haaretz daily said that those to be called up numbered "a few hundred" personnel considered vital, including members of missile defence, air force, intelligence and civil defence units.

"We need to make preparations but also to go about our daily lives," Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon told an economic conference in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.

News website Ynet reported on Thursday morning that "hundreds" of people were waiting outside a gas mask distribution centre in central Tel Aviv before it opened.

Public radio said that "thousands" of people were queueing at a distribution site in the northern city of Haifa, about 70 kilometres (43 miles) from the Syrian border at its closest point.

Maariv said that a centre in Jerusalem was forced to close on Wednesday after anxious residents grabbed all the mask kits on the premises, in a scene the paper described as a "battleground."

Nevertheless, Maariv reported, "security officials said that the situation assessment was that the likelihood of an attack on Israel was low."

The protective kits were first distributed to the Israeli public during the 1991 Gulf War over Kuwait when Saddam Hussein's Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel as the US-led coalition launched Operation Desert Storm.

In addition to gas masks they contain syringes of the anti-nerve gas agent atropine for self-injection.

Veteran Yediot Aharonot diplomatic writer Shimon Shiffer recalled the 1991 attacks, which despite Israeli fears, did not deliver non-conventional warheads and caused few casualties.

"Yesterday, against the backdrop of pictures of panicked civilians crowding the distribution centres for gas mask kits, I remembered something I said back then: 'There are no chemical weapons and there will be no chemical weapon attack,'" Shiffer wrote in the top-selling daily.

"It seems to me that what was correct then, is correct today too. I dare to say that no chemical weapon attack is expected on Israeli targets. We can relax."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130829/keep-calm-and-carry-message-worried-israelis