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International
Thursday, 23-November-2006
(SA) - Israel is speeding up plans to install a high-tech shield to protect its civilians from rockets, army officers and defence ministry officials said on Wednesday, after a week in which two Israelis were killed by homemade rockets launched by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip.

But two leading Israeli experts said no system currently available can stop the low-tech rockets, more than 2 000 of which have hit Israel since 2001.

Israel has undertaken several incursions into Gaza to stop the rockets, killing dozens of militants and civilians in November alone, but the rate of fire has only increased.

Israel has been looking at anti-rocket systems since 2003 but is now speeding up its effort and putting millions of shekels aside for this purpose, the defence officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the anti-missile preparations are secret.

The officials said defence ministry representatives visited a Lockheed Martin facility in the US recently to look at one potential system: the Skyshield, a cannon that fires 35mm shells that intercept rockets and explode, preventing them from hitting the target.

John Pike, director of the GlobalSecurity.org think tank in Alexandria, Virginia, said the system was similar to one that has been successfully tested for US forces in Iraq.

The officials said the Israeli military was also considering a variant of the Nautilus, under development by Northrop Grumman, which uses high-energy laser beams to intercept incoming missiles.

It was developed with Israeli co-operation to counter the threat of Hezbollah rockets on Israel's northern border.

The system could be potentially effective, Pike said, though some tests indicated that clouds or dust could interfere with the lasers and often render it useless.

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