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Students Return to High Schools Carrying Gas Masks

January 27, 1991

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Students carried gas masks with their textbooks as Israeli high schools reopened Sunday for the first time since the start of the Persian Gulf war, and the foreign minister said Israel was studying ways to stop Iraq’s missile attacks.

David Levy, the foreign minister, said the government was considering a number of alternatives, but gave no details.

″When it decides, everyone will know that the decision has been weighed from every side ... and that every possible outcome has been taken into account,″ he told Israel radio.

Defense Minister Moshe Arens told ABC television Israel could help neutralize the Iraqi missiles but that it would do so only in cooperation with the forces allied against Iraq.

″We think that we could make a contribution in knocking out the launchers,″ Arens said. He added: ″We’d have to arrive at a level of coordination and understanding with the United States.″

The Iraqi attacks have been aimed at trying to drag Israel into the war, a move the United States fears could split the anti-Iraq coalition which includes several Arab states hostile to Israel.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s Cabinet reviewed the war at its weekly session Sunday. No formal decisions were announced, but several ministers voiced continued support for a policy of withholding retaliation for the Iraqi missile attacks.

Six missile attacks in the past 10 days have killed four people, injured more than 200, and damaged more than 3,500 homes in the greater Tel Aviv area.

Teen-agers returning to school Sunday all had one thing in common - a cardboard box containing a gas mask slung over their shoulders.

Iraq has repeatedly threatened to use chemical weapons against Israel. The missiles fired so far have only had conventional warheads, but Israel has not ruled out the possibility of a chemical or biological attack.

″Our working assumption is that every warhead is a chemical one,″ the country’s chief of air defenses, Brig. Gen. Uri Ram, said on Israel television.

Israel radio and newspapers said military officials believed the prospects of an Iraqi chemical or biological attack were increasing as the war continues.

″It is logical to say that when the man (Saddam) will be pressed more to the wall and feels he has less to lose, the risk of him using a worse means ... or going up a notch in weaponry ... will be higher,″ Defense Ministry spokesman Dan Naveh said on the radio.

As a result, Israelis are taking the necessary precautions.

Classroom windows and doors were sealed with masking tape and plastic sheeting to protect the returning students, and those who arrived without gas masks were sent home, Israel radio said.

Teachers started lessons by outlining emergency procedures if air raid sirens sounded.

″In event of a siren, if you are in the classroom, put on your gas masks immediately, push the tables together and sit under them,″ one teacher told her class.

School attendance was as high as 90 percent in many cities Sunday, Education Ministry officials said. Only pupils from a Tel Aviv suburb hit in last week’s Scud missile barrages were kept home an additional day.

″We hope to quickly get back to normalcy,″ said Hannah Levite, principal of a high school affiliated with Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.

Schools were closed Jan. 16, a day before the gulf war began, and many students seemed happy to be back.

″Me, I had to be like a mother to my sister for 10 days and it was really frightening,″ one girl told Israel television.

The United States has sent Patriot anti-missile batteries to Israel along with army crewmen to try to protect the Jewish state from future attacks.

But Patriots are not 100 percent effective. While their rate of interception is high, ″I would like to see a higher percentage of destruction″ of the incoming Scuds, Ram said in the radio interview. He was speaking from the site of one of the Patriot batteries.

Some ministers who attended Sunday’s Cabinet meeting urged setting limits on how much punishment Israel should take before retaliating.

″I say we should have a red line, that the moment the Iraqis cross it we respond, but the response must be more painful than the massive bombardments by the United States,″ said Immigration Minister Yitzhak Peretz.

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