For Israelis, a time to watch and to worry WAR IN THE GULF

February 25, 1991|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Sun Staff Correspondent

TEL AVIV -- Israel was content to watch the ground war quietly from the sidelines yesterday, and it insisted on the same from the Palestinians in its occupied territories.

Authorities ordered the West Bank and Gaza Strip back under the strict curfew that had been gradually loosened the last two weeks. Fewer than 6,500 of the 1.7 million Palestinians were permitted to go to work yesterday; all others were confined to their homes.

Israel endured two Scud attacks early this morning. Missiles alerts at 3:35 a.m. (8:35 p.m. EST yesterday) and again at 4:30 a.m. awoke the country, but both missiles apparently fell in the sparsely settled desert area of the south, causing no injuries.

The curfew was reimposed to prevent Palestinians from reacting with violence to the news from Kuwait, authorities said.

There was no indication Israel intended to use the start of the allies' offensive as an opportunity to strike back at Iraq for the Scud missile attacks, as some here had predicted.

And Israel did not react to the killing of an Israeli sergeant, a Bedouin tracker, by an infiltrator along the tense Jordanian border yesterday. The government is anxious not to put further pressure on the shaky regime of King Hussein of Jordan.

It was the first death of an Israeli soldier in three attacks across the Jordanian border since the war began. The lone gunman, who had crossed the Jordan River and engaged soldiers inside the border, was killed, a military spokesman said.

The Israeli Cabinet held a short meeting yesterday in which Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir repeated his praise of President Bush for going ahead with the ground offensive.

Mr. Shamir also has formally asked Mr. Bush for $1 billion in financial aid to offset the costs of its military alerts during the war, according to reports this morning. The aid request would be in addition to the $3 billion a year that Israel receives from the United States.

Mr. Shamir's spokesman, Avi Pazner, said Israel hoped the offensive would remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power. Mr. Hussein's continued reign "would constitute a future danger, not only for Israel, but for all the states in the Middle East," Mr. Pazner said.

Defense Minister Moshe Arens later said the United States had promised to continue to bomb missile launchers in western Iraq during the ground offensive to discourage Iraq from firing Scuds at Israel.

Many Tel Aviv residents are apprehensive from repeated warnings by the army that Mr. Hussein may launch a chemical warhead against Israel in a final, desperate act.

None of the missiles fired toward Israel has carried chemical warheads.

Israel said it expects to receive shortly a seventh Patriot anti-missile battery, on loan from Holland.

The curfew had been lifted in many towns during daylight hours, but heavy restrictions on work and travel remained. As the curfews eased, sporadic violence occurred and at least two young teen-agers were shot and killed by Israeli troops.

The reimposition of the curfews was announced by army patrols using bullhorns. They drove through Arab villages Saturday night warning that those caught outside their homes would be shot, according to Palestinian sources.

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