JERUSALEM — At least one Arab guerrilla using a motorized hang glider landed at an Israeli army base near the northern town of Kiryat Shemona late Wednesday, killing six soldiers and wounding eight in a fierce, half-hour gun battle, the army announced today.
A foreign volunteer at a nearby kibbutz was also wounded slightly by a stray bullet.
One attacker was killed, and the army launched a massive, all-night search operation for one or more possible accomplices. There was an early report that another gunman had been captured, but the official announcement today spoke of only one attacker.
Israeli sources said both Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Dan Shomron, rushed to the scene of what was reportedly the most costly guerrilla infiltration into Israeli territory since 1978, when seaborne gunmen hijacked a civilian bus on the Mediterranean coastal road, killing 33 and wounding 82.
The dead gunman is believed to have flown his hang glider from southern Lebanon and landed at a base near Beit Hillel, two miles east of Kiryat Shemona, which is used by a special military branch called Nahal, or Fighting Pioneer Youth.
Nahal units are made up of young Israelis who serve half of their mandatory army service--three years for men, two for women--at agricultural settlements in border areas or in the occupied West Bank.
An army spokesman said that one or more attackers landed in a littered field across a road from the army camp at about 10:30 p.m. and first attacked a passing military van, killing an officer and wounding a woman soldier.
The gunman then entered the camp and, picking out a large lighted tent, attacked it with hand grenades and automatic rifle fire, killing five more soldiers.
Reporters taken to the scene early today saw the white van with black army license plates partially overturned in a ditch, its windshield shattered and bullet holes in the chassis. About 50 yards away was a multi-colored hang glider with a nearly 40-foot wingspan and a small engine.
All residents of Kiryat Shemona and nearby settlements were ordered by the army into bomb shelters overnight as the massive search for accomplices began.
This morning, all schools were being searched to be sure no gunmen were hiding in them. Roadblocks were thrown up as far as 20 miles south of Kiryat Shemona.
There was at least one previous unsuccessful attempt by an Arab guerrilla to infiltrate from Lebanon using a hang glider, in 1981.