Israel deploys first anti-rocket defense battery in south

09:00, March 28, 2011      

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Israeli anti-rocket system Iron Dome is deployed in Beersheba, southern Israel, on March 27, 2011. Israel on Sunday started deploying two batteries of the Iron Dome anti-rocket system in the southern country, in a bid to foil longer-range Kassam and Grad rockets from putting over a million Israelis within striking range in major urban areas. (Xinhua/Rafael Ben-Ari)

By Gur Salomon

The Israel Defense Forces on Sunday deployed for the first time the Iron Dome anti- rocket system amid a sharp escalation of violence along the Gaza border in recent weeks.

The system's first battery was positioned on the northern outskirts of Beer Sheva, a desert city hit by three Grad-type rockets fired by Gaza militants last week. A second battery is slated to be deployed later this week near the coastal city of Ashkelon.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Friday ordered the deployment of Iron Dome in the face of growing public pressure, saying the decision was approved "as a preliminary trial."

Development of Iron Dome, which tracks and blows up projectiles in mid-air, began in the aftermath of the 2006 Lebanon war, during which an estimated 4,000 Katyusha rockets and mortars showered northern Israel.

The system, which intercepts rockets at ranges of 5 to 70 km, was developed in record-time: about three years from the drawing board to Sunday's deployment. A battery includes three launchers with 20 missiles each.

In November last year, it succeeded in destroying a salvo of three Grad and two Qassam rockets in one of numerous field trials.

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