JERUSALEM (AP) _ On the eve of the Jewish New Year, Israel was on high alert Monday for attacks by Palestinian militants, with thousands of police deployed across the country and armed guards stationed at every synagogue.
In the wake of the terror attacks in the United States, police said their apprehension about Israel being targeted was greater than in previous years.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said a group of Islamic militants arrested by Israel over the weekend in the West Bank town of Ramallah had planned to carry out attacks during the two-day Jewish holiday, which begins at sundown Monday.
Israeli police said the arrest of the Hamas cell disproved their previous assessment that the terror strikes on the United States would discourage Palestinian militants from carrying out attacks against Israel for fear of bad world publicity.
``We are continuing to prepare for attacks in our region,'' said the head of operations in the police, Dan Ronen.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat sent holiday wishes to Israelis, calling for a ``start of a new era of peace and security between the two peoples.''
He said he called for a ``full commitment for a cease-fire'' and asked Israel to ``stop its military escalation.'' Sharon has said he would permit high-level truce talks with the Palestinians only after 48 hours of complete calm. Sharon said he hasn't seen any signs Arafat was trying to calm the area.
The street in front of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv was closed to traffic and security was increased around all U.S. installations for fear of attacks.
Police were deployed Monday at malls, bus stations and street corners. A private security guard stood outside the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem, fingering a pistol on her belt. Police said at least one armed guard would be stationed at every synagogue around the country.
Israelis at home and in pre-holiday traffic jams tuned their radios to hear the latest on American threats of war against Osama bin Laden, the Saudi militant hiding in Afghanistan. Bin Laden is a prime suspect in the attacks on the United States.
A poll published Monday in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper indicated that 59 percent of Israelis are afraid that Israel might be attacked by an Arab country in retaliation for possible U.S. military operations. The poll included 509 people and had a margin of error of 4.4 percent.
Israelis lined up at gas mask distribution centers for fear of another Iraqi attack like one in 1991, during the Gulf War. At the time, Israel was concerned Iraq had biological or chemical weapons, but the strikes included only crude Scud missiles. Army officials said 9,000 Israelis had gas mask kits renewed at 23 distribution centers throughout the country, compared to a daily average of 2,000.
In Jerusalem's outdoor Mahane Yehuda market _ the scene of several deadly attacks in the past _ border police with M-16 machine guns slung over their shoulders patrolled the streets as a thin trickle of shoppers bought holiday food.
For shopper Rahel Dror, the New Year meant growing anxiety over the Israeli-Palestinian fighting _ a sharp contrast to last year's hope for reconciliation, and a peace settlement.
``Last year, I thought there would be peace. Now I think there will be war. I simply don't see any way out,'' Dror, 60, said as her daughter lugged bags of vegetables and fruit behind her.