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ISRAEL: Duck and cover

April 6, 2008 | 11:31 pm

It’s emergency preparedness week in Israel, as authorities conduct the nation’s largest-ever series of disaster drills.

Military and civilian authorities will practice responding to a weeklong series of scenarios ranging from natural disaster to chemical weapons attack.

On Tuesday, schoolchildren across the country will file to protected areas when a nationwide emergency siren sounds.

The drill won’t be in effect, however, in Sderot, the southern city that is a target of regular rocket launches from the neighboring Gaza Strip. Sderot residents, it is believed, have more than enough experience ducking and covering in response to sirens.

Israeli officials have repeatedly denied that this week’s drills are tied to any specific looming threat. But it’s hard to ignore the rising anticipation of another round of hostilities with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

There are mixed interpretations on whether the two sides will lock horns again this summer, but Israeli officials remain braced for Hezbollah to take revenge for the February assassination of senior leader Imad Mughniyah in Damascus, Syria. Hezbollah blames Israel, and Israeli officials have issued several less-than-categorical denials of involvement. 

Every week seems to bring new, unconfirmed reports of massive expansion in the size and range of Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal.

Israel’s neighbors have taken note of the country’s preparedness drills. Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora ordered his country’s forces to go on heightened alert, and Hezbollah spokesmen have said their cadres will also be watching closely. 

— Ashraf Khalil in Jerusalem

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