TEL AVIV (Jan. 22)
Life in Israel was just beginning to return to normal when a SCUD missile with a conventional, high-explosive warhead caused extensive casualties and severe damage in the Tel Aviv area Tuesday evening.
An Israel Defense Force spokesman said at least 70 people were injured, and Israel Radio reported three people had died of heart attacks.
The IDF spokesman warned that fatalities could increase as rescue workers dig through debris in search of people buried underneath.
About 20 houses were reported destroyed or damaged, including a three-story residential building demolished by a direct hit. Windows were broken over a wide area. There was extensive damage to electrical and telephone lines, water pipelines and cooking-gas cylinders.
IDF spokesman Nachman Shai described the attack as the most serious of the three SCUD salvos fired at Israel since the war against Iraq began last week.
In Washington, the White House issued a statement condemning the missile assault as a “brutal act of terror against innocent victims.”
“The latest Iraqi missile attack on Israel is a continued example of Iraq’s unprovoked aggression against its neighbors,” said the statement from White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater.
Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Zalman Shoval, called the missile raid “a terrorist bomb attack on a peaceful civilian population of a country which is not at war with Iraq. This, by the way, constitutes a war crime under international law,” he said.
NOT ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE’
But Shoval stressed that if Israel decides to retaliate, it will not because it wants retribution.
“This is not a matter of an eye for an eye,” the envoy said. “It is a matter of how to act in the best way in order to defend our population and in order to prevent further attacks.”
The IDF refused to identify the area of impact of Tuesday’s SCUD attack, because the information could help Iraqi military commanders.
Also in the dark was the functioning of the U.S. Patriot anti-missile batteries deployed in and around Tel Aviv as protection against incoming SCUDs. Two Patriot missiles were heard being launched seconds after air raid sirens sounded.
The attack was the first Iraqi missile barrage against Israel since the Patriot batteries, operated by U.S. Army crews, were declared operational late Saturday.
Israel has so far refrained from retaliation, apparently at the urging of the United States, which airlifted the Patriots here from its stockpile in Germany.
But Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir called a meeting of the Cabinet for early Wednesday morning, and the ministers were expected to discuss an Israeli response to Tuesday’s attack.
Israeli Health Minister Ehud Olmert was quoted as saying, “It is not a question of whether Israel will retaliate, but when and how.”
Tuesday’s attack came just as Israelis were beginning to feel safe again. After four days of virtual curfew, Israelis were told they could return to work Tuesday, but schools stayed closed.
The first signs of the SCUD attack came at about 8:45 p.m. local time Tuesday, when air raid sirens sounded all over Israel.
An IDF spokesman said on Israel Radio 10 minutes later that the population north of Netanya and south of Rishon le-Zion, including Jerusalem, could remove their gas masks and leave the gas-proofed rooms in their homes.
Residents of the Tel Aviv area were told to remain in their shelters and wear their gas masks. But those instructions were soon canceled and an all-clear sounded shortly afterward.
RALLY OF SUPPORT AT THE U.N.
In New York, about 60 supporters of Israel gathered Tuesday evening in 18-degree weather outside the Israeli Mission to the United Nations in a hastily arranged show of concern and solidarity.
“It’s a sad night in Israel,” remarked Uriel Savir, Israel’s consul general in New York, as Michael Miller, executive director of the local Jewish Community Relations Council, led the crowd in a recitation of psalms.
“Why are we here? We are here for the people, the victims and the friends” of Israel, said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
He announced that the heads of most of the conference’s 46 constituent groups would fly to Israel this weekend on a mission to “stand in solidarity with the government and people of Israel.”
Among those in the shivering crowd was Sam Finkel, a 36-year-old teacher who was carrying a yahrzeit candle. “I have a sister in Israel, and I feel a bit guilty that people are there,” he said. “I have to do my bit on this side of the ocean.”
“It’s important not to be silent and to show all the support we can,” said Judith Lahn, 25, an artist. “It’s a terrible atrocity that innocent people are being killed and victimized in a situation they should not be involved in anyway.”
(Contributing to this report were JTA correspondents David Friedman in Washington and Aliza Marcus at the United Nations.)