Iraqi attacks cause minor damage in Tel Aviv, Haifa WAR IN THE GULF

January 18, 1991|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Sun Staff Correspondent Peter H. Frank of The Sun's business staff contributed to this article from Baltimore.

TEL AVIV, Israel -- Iraq struck weakly at Israel this morning with conventional missiles that caused a dozen slight injuries and some damage here and in Haifa, the government said.

A spokesman said Israel was "considering" whether to retaliate. Dozens of Israeli jets creased the night air, but it was unclear whether they were on attack or defense.

This morning Lt. Gen. Dan Shomron, the Israeli chief of staff, said, "The fact the missiles were fired at a civilian population is a very grave occurrence. We have said in the past this kind of thing makes reaction necessary."

Meanwhile, Israel radio reported that President Bush "promised Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir the United States would retaliate against the Iraqis intensively for this nighttime attack against Israel."

(Mr. Shamir summoned his Cabinet today to decide whether Israel would retaliate, according to Israel radio, Reuters reported.)

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's long-threatened attack on Israel brought air raid sirens to life and sent Israelis scrambling from their beds to put on gas masks in sealed rooms.

One resident of Tel Aviv, Judith Gottfried, said she awoke to the sound of bombs in the distance. She said she heard at least two explode. It was 2:30 a.m. in her suburban home just north of Tel Aviv, and her first thought was to reach for her gas mask next to the bed.

Within minutes Ms. Gottfried was joined by her son, daughter and two house guests in the "closed room" Israelis were urged to create, with the windows and air conditioning vent covered with plastic sheets to protect against poison gas.

"No, we were not scared," she See ATTACK, 6A, Col. 4ATTACK, from 1Asaid. "We feel safe at home."

She had recently returned from a business trip to Italy.

"I came by my own will. I want to stay with my family in these times. I feel much more secure in Israel."

In a residential area in Tel Aviv, a missile plunged through the roof of a home. Three people sleeping inside were not seriously hurt.

A man being treated at a hospital from effects of another of the blasts said, "The big bang is what scared me. I fell down and I threw up."

Most of those treated after the attack had been cut by flying glass, according to civil defense authorities.

Zeev Livneh, head of civil defense, said, "The damage was not that great."

It appeared the damage from the attack may be more political than physical. The Israeli military's chief spokesman said that "the potential of these missiles is minor, and have caused only incidental damage."

But any Israeli response could cause difficulties with the Arab partners of the U.S.-led coalition. Failure to respond could cause political difficulties for the government here.

The missiles were, at the least, a blow to Israeli nerves. For nearly an hour, it was unclear whether the missiles carried conventional warheads or chemical weapons, and much of Israel pondered its fate through the goggle eyes of gas masks.

Later, the government said the missiles had contained no chemicals or gas.

The government told residents they could take off the gas masks about 3 a.m. The missiles fell shortly after 2 a.m. local time.

At least two missiles fell in Tel Aviv, two more fell in the port town of Haifa, and three landed in rural areas, according to initial reports. None landed in Jerusalem, the capital.

Brig. Gen. Nachman Shai, chief military spokesman, said it was unclear whether more missiles had fallen in rural areas.

"Seven, eight, nine -- we don't know at the moment how many missiles hit specific areas," he said. He noted that several missiles were examined by army teams and "our conclusion is that all the missiles were explosive and not chemical."

"Yesterday we said specifically Iraq had the capacity to strike. And it did so today," General Shai said.

Israeli officials said it was probable the missiles had come from Iraq's mobile launchers, which are difficult for bombers to locate and disable.

Mr. Shomron noted, "This is the first time our civilian population has withstood a missile attack." He warned there could still be "even a more serious attack . . . we must be prepared."

Air raid sirens had sounded in Tel Aviv and some parts of Jerusalem, indicating some advance warning of the attack.

The mayor of Tel Aviv, Shlomo Lahat, told its citizens "there is no place for worry" and urged them to reopen shops and restaurants when the army gave the all-clear.

The attack came after a day of general relief in which Israelis began to believe they had avoided the attack long promised by Iraq.

In Jerusalem, cars in the mostly empty streets were manned by drivers in gas masks.

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