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Israel deploys third rocket interceptor in south

(Xinhua)

09:08, September 01, 2011

JERUSALEM, Aug. 31 (Xinhua) -- The Israeli military Wednesday deployed a third battery of the Iron Dome missile defense system near the southern port city of Ashdod, cutting short the original timetable by just over a week, the Defense Ministry said in a press release.

The Israel Air Force has thus far positioned the first two batteries near the cities of Beersheba and Ashkelon since they were declared operational in late March.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak complimented the security establishment for making available a third battery one day prior to the start of the new school year on Thursday.

Barak said the additional battery was part of a national emergency plan he announced several weeks ago and a "tangible expression of the protection of Israel's citizens from rockets and missiles."

Iron Dome , a multi-million U.S. dollar short-range system designed to intercept projectiles in midair, successfully shot down eight rockets fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip into Israel in April, and has downed dozens of others in barrages over the last few weeks.

On Monday, during a visit to the headquarters of ELTA Systems, a local company that had developed the system's detection and tracking radar, Barak said a fourth battery is expected to be deployed by year's end, while another five would likely enter service within two years.

News of the third battery's deployment come against a rise in tensions along Israel's southern border with Gaza over the past two weeks, with increased rocket attacks from the coastal territory and tit-for-tat violence.

Israeli military planners assess that the full deployment of Iron Dome -- about 12 to 15 batteries which air force officials have said are needed in order to provide Israel with a comprehensive shield from rocket threats on several fronts -- would most likely take several years.

The system is slated for later deployment along the northern Lebanese border, where Israel estimates that Shiite group Hezbollah is currently stocking more than 40,000 rockets that are considered able to reach most parts of the Jewish state.

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