Palestinian guerrillas in six speedboats attacked the Israeli coast today, but Israeli forces killed four and captured 12 before they could harm thousands of people on the beach or at Tel Aviv hotels.
A faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization claimed responsibility for the raid, which apparently was aimed at the hotels, which were crowded because of a religious holiday. No Israelis were hurt.
One of the guerrilla speedboats came ashore only a few hundred yards from a crowded Mediterranean beachclub in Nizzanim, 18 miles from Tel Aviv. The five other guerrilla boats were intercepted before they reached land.
Witnesses said the speedboat that landed had 11 guerrillas aboard and was headed north toward Tel Aviv when it was chased ashore by an Israeli gunboat. The guerrillas were pinned down in the sand dunes by heavy fire from elite army units and soldiers in two U.S.-made Cobra helicopter gunships.
Four guerrillas were killed, the army said.
In Baghdad, Iraq, the PLO faction known as the Palestine Liberation Front said it carried out an attack in retaliation for the killing of Palestinian leader Abu Jihad in Tunisia two years ago.
Abu Jihad, a nom de guerre for Khalil al-Wazir, was killed by a commando widely believed to be an Israeli in Tunis, Tunisia, in April, 1988.
The faction is led by Abul al-Abbas, who has been convicted in absentia by an Italian court for masterminding the hijacking of the Italian cruise liner Achille Lauro in 1985. One American was killed during the hijacking.
Most civilians were forced off the beaches south of Tel Aviv, where they had come on the Shavuot holiday or Festival of Weeks, which marks the giving of the Ten Commandments.
The army said a guerrilla mothership from Beghazi, Libya, released the six smaller craft 120 miles from the coast. It said the raiders, who were armed with Katyusha rockets and other heavy weapons, planned to kill civilians at hotels in Tel Aviv.
The raid was the largest Palestinian infiltration attempt by sea since March 11, 1978, when a dozen guerrillas from PLO chief Yasser Arafat’s Fatah faction came ashore and hijacked a bus on the coastal highway north of Tel Aviv. Thirty-three people were killed and 82 wounded in the incident.
After today’s raid, police ordered the evacuation of thousands of Israelis from a 30-mile stretch of beaches south of Tel Aviv. They also told thousands of other residents near the beach to stay home.
“It was well planned but as far as we know totally unsuccessful,” said an army spokesman.