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Israel deploys Iron Dome defense

JERUSALEM – Israel deployed a battery of its missile defense system, Iron Dome, to the Tel Aviv suburbs Friday to defend its citizens against possible retaliation if the threatened U.S.-led military strike against Syria is carried out.

As part of preparations against rockets that could be fired either by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or by Assad’s allies in the Lebanon-based Shiite militant organization Hezbollah, the Israeli air force also deployed Iron Dome batteries north and south, in Haifa, Ashkelon and Eilat, and is ready to move two additional units, Israeli officials said.

The United States and its allies are considering a military strike in coming days against Syria as punishment for its alleged use of chemical weapons last week. A poll released Friday by the newspaper Israel Hayom found two-thirds of Israeli Jews in favor of U.S. and European military intervention in Syria. But a majority also said such an action would probably lead to retaliation against Israel.

In the northern Israeli city of Safed at the Ziv Medical Center, which cared for 1,500 casualties during the Lebanon-Israel war in 2006, doctors said they were ready for anything, including a chemical or biological attack.

The hospital, which specializes in war-related injuries and has surgery suites and intensive care units in air-tight bomb shelters, is already involved in the Syria conflict. In the past six months, it has quietly received 76 severely wounded patients from Syria.

The patients have been shot or injured by shrapnel, bombs and mortar fire. They arrive in Israeli military ambulances after being allowed into the country through border gates normally closed to Syrians in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Many of the wounded are women and children. Others are fighters, most of them probably rebels, as Syrian army forces would have their own field hospitals. When several reporters sought to interview two young, wounded Syrian men lying in beds at Ziv hospital, they were shooed away by two Israeli soldiers.

“We don’t know and we don’t want to know who they are,” said Itzhak Koifman, a doctor at the bedside of a Syrian man who had been shot in the stomach. “We don’t ask. To us, they’re just patients.”

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