Haifa mayor orders preparations for possible Syrian retaliation

Following Israel’s reported strike at targets near Damascus, Yona Yahav holds urgent meetings with authority representatives

An Iron Dome battery stationed in the north near the city of Haifa, January 2013. (photo credit Avishag Shaar Yashuv/Flash 90)
An Iron Dome battery stationed in the north near the city of Haifa, January 2013. (photo credit Avishag Shaar Yashuv/Flash 90)

Haifa’s mayor ordered the northern city to increase its preparedness and gear up to defend itself against a possible retaliatory attack after Israeli planes reportedly hit targets inside Syria twice over the past three days.

Yona Yahav held meetings in order to coordinate the city’s positions with the Home Front Command, police, fire department and MDA. Procedures for opening shelters and absorption centers were discussed as well.

The move followed the placing of two Iron Dome batteries in northern Israel by the Israel Defense Forces on Sunday, amid reports that Syria saw the strikes as a “declaration of war.”

“City Hall is a body which residents approach in case of emergency and we must prepare accordingly,” Yahav said.

Two weeks ago, the Knesset held a special meeting on protecting the city’s large chemical stores, an attack on which could lead to thousands of deaths.

Late last month, Israeli planes shot down a drone off the coast near the city, thought to have been sent by Hezbollah or Iran. Hezbollah denied sending the unmanned aircraft.

Several days later, the army called up thousands of soldiers for a surprise drill in the north.

One Iron Dome battery was deployed in Safed and the other in Haifa Sunday. The Iron Dome system has proved highly effective in stopping short-range rocket fire, intercepting 84 percent of the incoming rockets from Gaza it aimed at during Operation Pillar of Defense last November.

On Sunday, Israeli planes reportedly hit targets near Damascus, two days after jets struck a weapons transfer at Damascus airport, according to unnamed American and Israeli officials.

Army Radio reported Israeli concerns that Hezbollah might seek further Iranian missile shipments, and said the security establishment was therefore remaining on alert.

There were no official Syrian reports on casualty numbers in either of the two strikes Friday and Sunday. An unconfirmed report on the Russia Today website cited a local Syrian journalist reporting “rumors on Syrian social media” that 300 or more soldiers stationed at military bases on Mount Qassiyoun near Damascus were killed.

“Many Syrians are calling for retaliation as the possibility of a full-scale war with Israel is speculated upon,” the unconfirmed report said.

Activists opposed to the Assad regime reported that a blast hit an ammunition depot in the Qassiyoun mountains late Saturday. It was not clear if that reported incident was related to any Israeli activity. According to a Syrian official who spoke to Al Arabiya, the Syrian regime uses its bases on the mountain to fire missiles at rebel targets in Damascus.

Syria’s deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad warned Sunday that recent Israeli airstrikes on facilities near Damascus constituted an Israeli “declaration of war.”

Syrian officials made similar threats after an alleged Israeli airstrike on a weapons convey near the Lebanese-Syrian border at the end of January 2013.

At that time Israel also positioned Iron Dome batteries in the north, though there were no responses from Syria or Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

The Foreign Ministry in Damascus said the attacks aimed “to give direct military support to terrorist groups” fighting the government.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his security cabinet on Sunday afternoon to discuss the escalating hostilities with Syria. He slightly delayed his scheduled Sunday evening departure for China in order to participate in the meeting.

In a brief comment apparently related to the airstrike, Netanyahu said Sunday, “My father taught me that the greatest responsibility we bear is to ensure Israel’s security and to fortify its future.” The prime minister, speaking at a ceremony dedicating a Jerusalem road junction in memory of his father Benzion, did not elaborate.

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