Four warheads reach Tel Aviv in early morning


January 19, 1991|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Sun Staff Correspondent

TEL AVIV, Israel -- Four missiles carrying conventional warheads struck Tel Aviv this morning, hitting empty buildings and causing no deaths.

Army officials said there were only five minor casualties -- injuries caused by flying glass and sprained ankles.

"We were incredibly lucky," an Israeli army officer said.

Two of the missiles struck gas stations, another missile hit a government office building and the fourth apparently landed in an empty area.

[Baghdad radio, monitored in Jerusalem, interrupted its broadcast with a statement saying: "This moment, we are

launching 11 missiles at the enemy," the AP reported.]

An army official said that at least seven missiles had been fired at Israel. There were no impacts other than in Tel Aviv, the officer said.

Dawn had just come to Israel today after a night of false alarms: two in Tel Aviv and one in Jerusalem.

This attack was real.

It came at 7:20 a.m. local time (12:20 a.m. EST) on the Jewish Sabbath, almost simultaneously with a warning from air raid sirens.

Three booms rolled over the rooftops of the city, bouncing off the skyscrapers.

Almost immediately, a wisp of smoke rose from a southern area (( of the city, seemingly near where a missile had landed the day before. The smoke climbed into the sky, turned from white to gray and then died out after about 15 minutes. Another impact was reported near a large park in the north of the city.

Residents of the city, weary from two previous false alarms last night, hurried to don gas masks when the siren was accompanied by three loudbooms. An all-clear signal, indicating that the weapons did not carry chemical warheads, was sounded shortly after 8 a.m.

Jerusalem also heard sirens, but there was no confirmation of any missile landing there.

There was no loud explosion of the type that awoke Tel Aviv, residents there said.

[The Associated Press reported that an alarm in Jerusalem was connected with an unexplained explosion outside that city.]

The attack is certain to increase pressures on Israeli leaders to order a retaliation.

[Ehud Olmert, the Israeli health minister, told ABC-TV he expected some retaliation, saying, "With the additional attacks tonight, I'm afraid it's almost inevitable."]

Israeli defense officials did not announce any immediate military response, but one officer predicted that the attack would cause Israel's entry to combat.

"They'll have to do something now," one officer said.

Israel had appeared to be giving the U.S.-led forces more time to search and find the missile sites that launched the initial attack, but Defense Minister Moshe Arens said that the United States "knows that if we are attacked, we will respond. And we have been attacked."

Israeli leaders have said it is a point of political and practical necessity to retaliate whenever Israel is harmed.

There were no deaths and only a dozen minor injuries in the attack yesterday.

PD Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has not spoken publicly about Isra

el's intentions.

But yesterday, Mr. Arens' comments were seconded by Foreign Minister David Levy and Benjamin Netanyahu, his deputy.

Mr. Arens noted of the allies, "We take into account their presence. But we will do what has to be done." He added: "We will retaliate."

The allies believe such a move is exactly what Iraqi President Saddam Hussein hoped in launching missiles at a country 350 miles away from his Iraq's closest border.

The question of if, when and how Israel should move was hotly debated yesterday. Many residents of Tel Aviv seemed willing to be a little more patient.

In interviews, most said they would wait to see whether Mr. Hussein bombarded them again. But many added that another night's shelling would be enough: They said Israel should then respond.

Nerves were jangled last night by three false alarms. The first, at 8:40 p.m., was accompanied by instructions on state radio and television that all citizens throughout the country should put on gas masks. That alarm lasted 24 minutes. A second sounding of the sirens came at 12:32 a.m., but an "all-clear" signal was given just three minutes later. At 4:50 a.m., they went off again.

Israel Radio said the second false alarm was sparked by sightings of a Soviet satellite that had burned up and re-entered the atmosphere.

The initial Iraqi attack was accomplished with Scud missiles, which are said to be somewhat inaccurate and carry a limited payload. But daylight yesterday revealed that the damage from their explosions was more than the "minor damage" that had been reported.

At the site of one impact, the missile blew the concrete-block front walls completely off two two-story buildings. It so badly damaged two other similar homes that the government demolished them yesterday.

That no one was seriously injured in the blasts "was very, very lucky," said a neighbor. The neighborhood of this missile landing was a poor, residential area in south Tel Aviv. Many of the residents are Iraqi Jews.

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