Iraq fired a rain of seven Scud missiles into Israel on Friday, and one crashed into a house in Tel Aviv, killing a neighbor next door. But Israel refrained from retaliating despite complaints that allied Scud-killing in Iraq has been too slow.
A barrage of Patriot interceptors blew apart the other six Iraqi Scuds in midair, scattering debris over greater Tel Aviv and near Haifa. Shutters shattered, windows broke and shingles fell on city streets. None of the Scuds carried poison gas. But 66 Israelis were injured, authorities said--most of them slightly.
About the same time, Iraq fired another four Scuds into Saudi Arabia. One destroyed a wing of a building near downtown Riyadh. Witnesses said the missile hit with a bright orange flash. One person was killed and another 30 were injured, Interior Ministry officials said. The death was Saudi Arabia’s first Scud fatality.
Two of the other three missiles fired into Saudi Arabia were destroyed by Patriots. One exploded in the air over Riyadh. The other was intercepted over the Dammam-Dhahran area on the Persian Gulf coast. The fourth missile also was aimed at the Dammam-Dhahran area, but witnesses said it apparently went astray.
Kuwait, meanwhile, was being “hit heavily” by round-the-clock air assaults, the allies said. It cited evidence--Iraqi soldiers short on food and ridden with lice--that the bombing has cut off supplies and made conditions grim among the dug-in Iraqis.
But Iraq’s military punch kept the allies wary too. The British sent in higher-flying bombers to put their crews farther from deadly Iraqi anti-aircraft fire.
Clear skies allowed the allies to step up their relentless battering of targets across Kuwait and Iraq.
Baghdad’s latest military communique claimed that most allied attacks on Iraq were directed at civilian targets. CNN’s Peter Arnett, the last foreign correspondent in Baghdad, said the Iraqis took him to a small town where almost two dozen homes were destroyed in what he was told was an air attack. The Iraqis said 24 civilians were killed in the attack, he reported.
The Pentagon later said the town is near a chemical-weapons facility and other strategic sites.
The allied command says it is targeting strictly military and other strategic sites. But officers acknowledge that unintended civilian casualties are inevitable in the wide-scale bombardment of Operation Desert Storm, the 9-day-old U.S.-led offensive to drive Iraq from occupied Kuwait.
The Scud attack on Israel, the heaviest since last Friday, came only hours after disclosure that Germany had offered to provide Israel with more Patriot interceptors. David Levy, the Israeli foreign minister, would not say whether Israel would accept them. To man the Patriots, Israel also would have to import crews.
Inviting German troops to Israeli soil to operate the missiles presents an emotional problem because survivors of the Holocaust, the Nazi slaughter of millions of Jews, might not welcome a German troop presence.
The Scud attack also came as the United States was rushing more Patriots to Israel. The Israeli army said the U.S. missiles would be operational “in a short time.”
The Israeli army would not say how many Patriots it had received.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is trying to draw Israel into the gulf war in hopes of driving some Arab states out of the anti-Iraq alliance and onto Iraq’s side in a war against their traditional enemy, the Jewish state.
Baghdad radio Friday night appealed to Arab officers and soldiers to defect. “Do you not feel proud,” the radio said, “to see us stand up against all the Arabs’ enemies, not scared or frightened? . . . Then why do you not join us?”
It wasn’t clear if the often-jammed and static-filled radio, which was monitored in Nicosia, Cyprus, could be heard in the Saudi desert where Syrian and Egyptian troops are camped.
The Bush Administration has pressured Israel to stay out of the war for fear that an Israeli attack on Iraq would undermine Washington’s anti-Iraq alliance with Arab states. But restraint was eating into Israeli patience. Four Israeli deaths so far have been linked to Iraqi Scud attacks. Almost 200 Israelis, mostly in Tel Aviv, have been injured.
Iraq has launched 20 missiles into Israel’s populous coastal region--nine of them since the United States sent in an initial complement of Patriots. The Patriots have knocked down seven of those nine before they could strike.
Although they acknowledged the value of the Patriots, Israeli military men complained that the U.S. Air Force was not destroying Scud launchers on the ground in Iraq quickly enough. In apparent answer to those complaints, Dan Shomron, the Israeli army chief of staff, cautioned: “Anyone who thinks that Israel would do a quick job and finish it (the threat of the Iraqi Scuds) is mistaken.”
He added: “Our mentality, our military tradition, our defense doctrine--all these say war must be taken as swiftly as possible to the enemy’s territory. There is no doubt that we have the ability for quick and severe retaliation.
“But this time the situation is different. For better or worse, we are not alone. The United States and the other coalition states are fighting in the gulf. And as far as we can discern, the goals are not just to remove the Iraqi army from Kuwait . . . (but) to destroy the Iraqi war machine--which from our point of view is of supreme importance in the long term.”
Syria’s foreign minister, Farouk Shareh, rejected Iraq’s tactics Friday, saying, “This is not an Arab-Israeli conflict. . . . It’s a gulf war.” But he added nonetheless, “Israel should not retaliate.”
The mobile Scud launchers on the loose in western and southern Iraq are a high-priority target for allied planners, along with the dug-in Iraqi forces in Kuwait and southern Iraq.
Britain’s chief of staff, Air Marshal Sir David Craig, said the Iraqi troops “are now being hit heavily.” But he added, speaking of Hussein, “This does not seem to trouble him. He seems impervious to suffering.”
Johnston said the condition of captured Iraqi soldiers--the allies hold more than 100--attests to the repercussions of the nonstop bombardment.
“Large numbers, if not all, were covered with lice and had open sores, and quite a few said they were down to slim rations,” the Marine general told reporters at command headquarters in Riyadh.
“That’s some indication that it’s having an impact,” he said.
In an unsubstantiated report, an anti-Hussein Kurdish resistance group said allied air raids had killed or wounded almost 10,000 Iraqi troops. Official Iraqi reports have spoken only of dozens of military casualties.
The allies have reported losing 18 warplanes in combat, including 11 American and five British.
All the downed British planes were Tornados assigned to low-level bombing of airfields and similar targets. The relatively high “kill” rate on these planes led the British to announce Friday that they were shifting tactics, dispatching high-level Buccaneer bombers to the gulf.
Baghdad radio also broadcast more of what it said were interviews with captured pilots--three Americans and an Italian. The Americans were Air Force Col. David William Eberly, Navy Lt. Lawrence Randolph Slade and Air Force Maj. Thomas Edward Griffith.
On the northern front, tens of thousands of U.S. and allied troops prepared for the land offensive many believe to be unavoidable, against an estimated 545,000 Iraqi troops in position in Kuwait and southern Iraq.
Dozens of tanker trucks rumbled north to supply desert fuel depots for helicopters and tanks. U.S. Army engineers rehearsed their dangerous mission of breaching the Iraqi minefields and tank traps that lie across the border.
Not all units are in place. More than a week into the war, Army elements from Europe were still arriving in the desert. And steady rains have turned much of the desert floor into a sea of mud, slowing down the training of U.S. tank divisions that will spearhead any attack.
But few doubt that they will see action. Capt. Larry Kinde of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment summed up the mood: “It’s no longer if, but when.”
Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, after the collapse of negotiations over Iraqi grievances against Kuwait’s ruling family involving border territory, oil rivalries and Iraqi debts to Kuwait. The Iraqis later announced that they had annexed Kuwait.
The Desert Storm offensive began Jan. 17, one day after the expiration of a U.N. Security Council deadline for an Iraqi withdrawal from the oil-rich emirate. Bush said he feared that U.N. economic sanctions ordered against Iraq would prove insufficient to force Hussein to abandon Kuwait.
In other events:
* Hussein has had his top air force and air defense commanders shot after heavy losses, Soviet Defense Ministry sources told an independent Moscow news agency. The Iraqi Embassy in Moscow denied the report. Soviet and U.S. defense officials said they could neither confirm nor deny it.
* President Bush told reporters at the White House that he would not alter his activities to avoid terrorist threats. He said he would deliver his State of the Union address Tuesday as scheduled. The President said: “I am not going to be held a captive in the White House by Saddam Hussein.”