Israelis Sent Scurrying to Shelters By Faulty Siren With PM-Gulf Rdp
JERUSALEM (AP) _ A faulty siren signaled ″air attack″ in Jerusalem today, sending Israelis scurrying into bomb shelters less than 24 hours after the government decided to distribute gas masks to the public.
It took a half hour before radio announcers broke into regular programs to calm hundreds of anxious callers with the news that the siren system went off by accident.
Israel announced Monday it would start distributing gas masks to its 4.7 million citizens. The announcement followed repeated threats by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to attack the Jewish state with chemical weapons.
An Army spokesman, Brig. Gen. Nachman Shai, noted today that the siren system breaks down occasionally. Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek said the false alarm came at the worst time.
″What was especially unpleasant was ... this occurred with the announcement to distribute the masks. It is clear that everyone was nervous,″ Kollek said on Israel radio.
A similar warning siren was set off as a test Monday night in Kiryat Ata near Haifa, and jeeps with loudspeakers went through the town telling citizens the warning was false.
Today, worried Israelis bombarded talk shows with questions on how and when they would get their masks, and daily papers carried spreads on use of the protective equipment.
The gas mask announcement also brought a nervous reaction from abroad.
Companies from Sweden, Finland, Switzerland and Denmark canceled charter flights to Israel, state-run radio said. Visitors from those countries make up 40 percent of winter tourists in the resort city of Eilat.
Moshe Amir, head of the Israeli Hotel Association, criticized the decision to distribute gas masks.
″Today Israel is acting with a ghetto mentality,″ he said on Israel radio. ″Such an image gives tourism no chance.″