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Huge Explosion Kills Two, Wounds 45 at Munitions Plant Near Tel Aviv

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Two people were killed and some 45 injured in a massive blast at a heavily guarded munitions plant just north of Tel Aviv on Thursday.

The explosion occurred minutes after 8 a.m. at an Israel Military Industries complex at Nof Yam on the coastal road between Tel Aviv and Haifa just outside Herzliya.

It was first reported to have occurred during an experiment in an underground bunker containing what was described as a “very large store” of high explosives.

But later reports said it happened during routine operations.

Twenty-five of the wounded were workers at the plant, and another 20 were residents of nearby houses and passers-by.

Most sustained medium to light injuries and all were treated at a number of hospitals in the area.

The two dead IMI workers have been identified as Gershon Matzliah, 28, and Moshe Raz, 41, both of Herzliya.

It was the second major explosion in a state-owned IMI munitions plant in just over a month. The earlier one, on June 21, also killed two workers and injured nine.

Government officials and local residents have demanded that the government speed up implementation of its decision last year to move IMI installations away from residential areas to more remote sites in the Negev.

SOME 500 HOUSES DAMAGED

This most recent blast was heard over a wide area as far away as south Tel Aviv, and some 500 houses were damaged, with extensive damage to doors, windows and roof tiles over a radius of several miles. The main damage was in Nof Yam, Rishpon, Kfar Shmaryahu and Herzliya Pituach.

A tall pillar of white dust and smoke could be seen for miles around.

Many nearby residents said they first thought the boom had been caused by a falling Scud missile, fired from Iraq by a desperate Saddam Hussein.

The residents reported rushing out of their damaged homes to find a hail of stones and concrete blocks raining down from the skies.

Vehicles traveling along the main highway were lifted into the air by the blast.

Experts from the Environment Ministry rushed to the scene and declared, after tests, that no trace of poisonous or hazardous elements were found in the air.

The coastal highway, jammed with the usual morning rush hour traffic at the time of the blast, was closed for about two hours as some 50 ambulances raced to the scene.

Scores of army, police, fire brigade and Defense Ministry rescue squads from the recently established Rear Areas Command of the Israel Defense Force converged on the scene to help in rescue work and to begin investigations into the cause of the blast.

The Nof Yam director has ruled out intifada-related sabotage.

He said there had been a series of consecutive explosions at a line of underground ounkers, but was unable to determine yet how they had been connected.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who is also defense minister, named a panel to investigate the cause of the explosion.

The decision to move the munitions plants to more remote areas is supported by the Finance and Defense Ministries.

But it is opposed by the thousands of IMI worker who fear they would have to relocate themselves and their families from homes where they have lived for many years to isolated areas in new development regions.

The cost of such a move, estimated at between $500 million and $700 million, would be almost completely covered by the sale of the valuable real estate on which the plants are built.

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