Duel of Iraqi Scuds, Patriot missiles leaves 1 dead, 69 injured in Tel Aviv WAR IN THE GULF

January 26, 1991|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Sun Staff Correspondent

TEL AVIV, Israel -- A battle of missiles above Tel Aviv left one man dead and 69 people injured last night.

Israeli authorities said they did not yet know how many casualties were caused by falling pieces of exploded rockets and how many by incoming Iraqi missiles that eluded Patriot defense rockets.

Reporters who visited several sites of damage said it appeared that some Iraqi Scud missiles had reached the ground before exploding. Israel radio said some missiles were aimed at Haifa but caused only property damage.

Even before the attack, the fifth on Israel since the Persian Gulf war began, Washington announced that it was sending more Patriot defensive systems to Israel to increase chances of interception.

The latest attack came at 6 p.m., just as Jews were beginning their sabbath observance.

The chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Nachman Shai, said seven Scud missiles were fired at central and northern Israel from launchers in western Iraq.

The anti-missile Patriot batteries stationed around Tel Aviv launched numerous defensive rockets, he said. He was not sure of the outcome.

"Most of the [Patriot] missiles launched tonight hit Scud missiles. As a result of it, quite a number of ricochets and fragments spread out on the ground, and this is the reason we have that many casualties."

General Shai said an assessment of what happened would have to wait until today.

"We need daylight to determine exactly what happened," he said.

The one known fatality apparently was at a single-family home where a rocket or a piece of a missile crashed through the roof. Several injured people also were taken away from an apartment complex nearby.

Of those injured, one was in serious condition this morning, and five had "medium wounds," an army spokesman said. The remainder had minor injuries.

Lt. Gen. Dan Shomron, the army chief of staff, said Israel would continue its policy of military restraint, even though "we have the ability to respond in a very harsh and quick manner."

General Shai said, "Israel does have the capacity to react quickly.

We can bring about damage to Iraq if needed. We will set the time and place to react. We will not let the Iraqi government dictate the time and the place for our reaction. We are fully aware the Iraqi government is trying to drag Israel into the war."

The toll of the Iraqi attacks so far is four dead -- including three from heart attacks -- and nearly 200 injured. According to accounts in the Israeli press, an additional eight people have died during air raids because they did not remove seals on their gas mask filters and suffocated.

The attack last night produced for Tel Aviv residents the closest and most visible display of the high-tech, automated conflict between missiles, much of which occurred near or over the city.

At least one Patriot missile turned from defense to offense, with nearly catastrophic results. It rose and then turned back to earth, finally falling harmlessly near a crowded high-rise hotel.

"The Patriots responded quickly and effectively to the incoming missiles," General Shai said. But he acknowledged, "Sometimes the Patriot missile may run into the wrong place . . . as a result of a technological error. That's the way it is."

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