JERUSALEM -- Abdullah Said yesterday went to a community center, signed a few forms, listened briefly to an instructor and left with five gas masks, one for each member of his family.
People from almost every household in Israel are scheduled to do the same within the next two months. But Mr. Said's errand was profoundly disorienting because Mr. Said is a Palestinian counting on Israel to protect him in case of war with Arab Iraq.
"I never thought things would come to this," Mr. Said, a building contractor, said before he walked past a dozen soldiers into the community center in the Beit Safafa neighborhood.
After a test run last week in three small communities, Israel is rapidly accelerating the distribution of gas masks to reassure residents that they and their government are prepared in case fighting erupts and Iraq carries out its threats to use chemical weapons.
Authorities plan to open 400 distribution centers to distribute 1.9 million kits of protective gear by the end of this week. A total of 5 million are to be given out over the next two months. If war seemed imminent, the army says, the work could be done in as little as three days.
Provisions are being made to supply the 850,000 Israeli Arabs, diplomats, tourists, the homeless and even Bedouins. But so far the timetables exclude the 1.7 million Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.