Israelis’ luck held on Saturday, with only 16 light injuries reported after a Sabbath morning salvo of at least three Scud missiles, Iraq’s second attack on this tense, tired city in as many days.
Like the first Iraqi attack early Friday morning, Saturday’s missile hits blew out glass and caused some structural damage to buildings near where they landed, but miraculously they did not kill anyone. By Saturday evening, all the injured had been released from hospitals.
In the worst strike, a Scud exploded right above a community center’s underground bomb shelter, blowing a gaping hole in its ceiling and twisting the metal rods supporting its concrete walls like thick strands of spaghetti.
Construction engineer Eli Silko, who had just entered another shelter several yards away when the missile hit, said he and 60 neighbors and family members were saved from certain death in the exploded shelter by an amazing twist of fate.
“They wanted us to go in there, and now there’s nothing left, not even the walls,” he said.
Silko and his neighbors had demanded to be allowed to sleep in a shelter, even though, in the event of an attack involving chemical weapons, it is better to be up high. Local officials had originally offered them the ill-fated shelter, he said.
Instead, the families, many of them with babies and small children, crowded into an underground exercise room in another part of the community center.
Their lucky escape brought little joy to the two dozen women and children who were still huddled in the exercise room an hour after the attack, comforting each other in the weak beams of flashlights and wondering how many more bombardments they would have to endure.
“I’m so afraid,” said Shela Vaknim, the mother of four, cuddling a toddler on her shoulder. “There was the boom, and all the electricity went out, and all the children began to cry. May no one ever know the fear we have felt.”
When city officials arrived to evacuate the families, several women said their greatest need was not temporary hotel rooms or counseling but rather that a doctor instantly be found to dose them with tranquilizers.
Former Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Zubin Mehta, now staying in Israel to show his solidarity, visited the community center to hearten the victims and the general public, as did Tel Aviv Mayor Shlomo Lahat.
“Thank God there are no casualties,” Lahat said. “The damage will be . . . repaired. This we can always do. But the life of people we can never bring again. This is not the last missile.”
Military censors have forbidden the media to tell exactly where the missiles fell, saying such geographical spotting helps the Iraqis with their targeting.
Brig. Gen. Nachman Shai, chief spokesman for the Israeli army, angrily told reporters in Tel Aviv on Saturday: “If any one of you would like to commit suicide, I urge you to do it out of the country.”
Shut in for three days now under a virtual curfew by civil defense authorities, many Tel Aviv residents are beginning to complain of cabin fever, and the frequent alarms of possible incoming missiles or planes are beginning to take on aspects of a familiar, if unpleasant, routine.
Military officials have said they are likely to be quick on the trigger in calling alarms these days, hitting the button as soon as a suspicious object is spotted in the sky. Between Friday and Saturday evenings they set off three alarms that turned out to be false--one of them triggered by “space junk"--the remains of a Soviet satellite.
The missile attacks have spawned a unique Tel Aviv phenomenon: the site junkie--people who travel from site to site, defying the recommended curfew, simply to see the damage for themselves.
At one point of impact, sightseers filed up the narrow stairs to the roof of a building next door to look down at the damage, much like tourists filing up into the Statue of Liberty.
The clear Iraqi intent to continue hitting Tel Aviv has unleashed a small exodus of residents to safer areas, with many seeking out the relative calm and pleasant sun of Eilat in the south or driving north to Galilee, neither of which have been reported hit by missiles.
But Gen. Shai said that overall, “the public’s orderly and obedient response to civil defense directives is a source of pride to all of us Israelis.”
Still, the prolonged tension and repeated spurts of panic brought on by the sudden ululation of the alarms was clearly taking its toll.
Along with several deaths caused by improper use of gas masks or other protection devices, scores, if not hundreds, of people have needed medical treatment after each alarm or attack for the effects of panic and shock.
Confusion and complaints were also mounting about whether the government was right in insisting that citizens respond to each alarm as a possible chemical attack--closing themselves in sealed rooms and donning gas masks--when all the missiles so far have been armed only with conventional warheads.
Shai warned Saturday that just because Iraq has not yet directed chemical weapons at Israel “doesn’t mean they don’t have them"--but at the Tel Aviv Hilton Hotel, where Shai spoke, guests were noticeably more casual about donning their gas masks during a Saturday evening alarm.
For any Tel Aviv residents who have found the battle against panic turning into a fight against boredom, Israel Radio introduced an innovative new contest on Saturday: It told children to take the letters of Saddam Hussein’s name and see how many words they could make by rearranging the letters.
The name of the game: “Tearing Saddam Hussein to Pieces.”
THE HUNT FOR THE SCUD
Iraq’s missile attacks on Israel have prompted an intense search for the mobile launchers needed to fire the Scud missiles. Finding the launchers--through satellite or reconnaissance or radar--has been likened to looking for a needle in a haystack. Understanding something about the range and characteristics of different Scud versions makes it easier to understand the search. WHAT IS A SCUD?
A Scud (or Subsonic Cruise Unarmed Decoy) is a surface-to-surface missile with a relatively small payload that is not considered highly accurate.
Iraq’s Scuds are fired from fixed or mobile sites. Most fixed sites were believed destroyed in the first U.S.-led attacks, although that has not been confirmed.
Iraq is believed to have several hundred missiles in stock but only about 36 mobile launchers.
TYPES OF SCUDS
1-- Scud B: The original Scud B has a range of 186 miles and an accuracy estimated at no better than half a mile. Iraq was believed to have about 200 Soviet-supplied Scud-B missiles. They can carry a 1-ton warhead of high explosives.
2-- Scud C: Similar to Scud B, with a range of 279 miles.
3-- Al Hussein: A modified Scud, these Iraqi-altered missiles have a range of 373 miles. The weapons can carry a conventional or chemical warhead.
4-- Al Abbas: A further modified Scud, these missiles have a range of 559 miles and can carry a conventional or chemical warhead.
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The Scud missile was incorrectly identified in this story. Scud is a NATO designation for the missile and not an acronym.
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