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Missile Strikes Tel Aviv; 3 Die : 96 Hurt as Scud Devastates Apartment House Area : Gulf War: Sorties by allied warplanes pass the 10,000 mark. Iraqis torch oil facilities in Kuwait and thick smoke hampers aircraft.

January 23, 1991|DANIEL WILLIAMS and CAREY GOLDBERG | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

TEL AVIV — A deadly Iraqi Scud missile slipped past U.S.-manned Patriot interceptor batteries Tuesday and thundered into a densely populated neighborhood of Tel Aviv, bringing death to three people and injury to 96 others.

It was the third and gravest attack on Israel since the Persian Gulf War began six days ago. The high number of casualties raised anew the question of whether the Jewish state would retaliate--and risk splintering the U.S.-Arab coalition against Iraq.

The Scud missile crashed into an area of apartment buildings. The three dead were elderly residents who apparently suffered heart attacks. Three of the wounded, including a baby girl, were critically injured while the rest received light to moderate wounds. The warhead carried a conventional explosive, and government spokesmen said there was no trace of poison gas.

A short time earlier, Iraqi forces had fired four Scud missiles into eastern Saudi Arabia. They were aimed at Dhahran, site of a major allied air base. But all were destroyed by Patriot missiles before they reached their targets.

There were these other developments:

* The missile attacks came as allied warplanes streaked over mist and drizzle along the northern Saudi front lines and passed a new mark in air power--10,000 sorties in six days since the war began, surpassing what is often cited as history's greatest concentration of air power: the 6,151 sorties flown against Germany during six days of 1944.

* In the Persian Gulf itself, U.S. Navy planes sank an Iraqi mine-layer and another ship and chased away two other boats.

* The Iraqis displayed two more men on television whom they identified as American prisoners of war. They were identified by the Iraqis as U.S. Air Force Maj. Jeffrey Scott Tice and Capt. Harry Michael Roberts. The allies expressed concern that they would be sent to join other POWs as human shields at strategic Iraqi facilities.

* The Iraqis torched oil facilities in occupied Kuwait, sending thick, black smoke over the desert and hampering allied aircraft. In all, three facilities were burned, military and oil company executives said. Although there was no immediate drop in oil supplies, world oil prices jumped $2.88 a barrel.

* President Bush's spokesman said the commander in chief would like to receive better damage assessments from his commanders. A Pentagon spokesman conceded that "we don't have a fully accurate picture" of U.S. and allied progress. Bush's spokesman called the President "pensive and fairly preoccupied."

One of Bush's biggest concerns was whether Israel would retaliate against the Iraqis for their latest missile attack on Tel Aviv. Israeli Health Minister Ehud Olmert, a confidant of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, seemed to suggest that such retaliation is only a matter of time.

"It is not whether Israel will react or not," Olmert said, "but when."

Air raid sirens wailed just after 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Israel time. Moments later, two explosions were heard in the coastal Tel Aviv region. The pair of booms raised speculation that one Scud was shot out of the air while the other crashed into Tel Aviv.

At least two Patriot anti-missile rockets were fired, but it was not immediately clear how many Scuds were heading for Israel and whether the Patriots actually downed any of them. The Scud that hit its target demolished a two-story apartment building and ripped down walls in two others.

It damaged dozens of neighboring two- and three-story apartment houses.

Residents of the neighborhood said they had time to retreat into plastic-sealed rooms and put on gas masks. "We all huddled in a room. Then, boom, and the windows exploded," said Saguy Goldberg, a 14-year-old who was visiting his grandmother and eight friends and relatives.

Despite the attack, government spokesmen indicated that workers will be asked to go to their jobs today. "Life will go on as normal," pledged Brig. Gen. Nachman Shai, the chief army spokesman. "We must by all means maintain a regular and normal life."

Whether or not the Patriots knocked down a Scud on Tuesday, Israeli officials warned that they are not a cure-all for missile attacks.

"We appreciate the excellent work of the Patriot crews," said Deputy Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "But that only gives part of the answer." Danny Naveh, a spokesman for Defense Minister Moshe Arens, said, "The Patriot improves our defense.

"But it is not the full answer to removing the threat."

American defense officials appeared to lay some of the blame for the success of the Scud attack on Israel.

At Israel's insistence, said defense sources who asked to remain anonymous, American soldiers and equipment making up the two Patriot battalions sent to Israel last weekend were put under the command of the Israel Defense Forces.

Thus, these sources said, Israeli officers would have had a key role in issuing the commands that dictated whether and how American Patriot operators responded to warnings about an incoming Scud.

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