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Bloodiest Iraqi missile attack wounds dozens

By
ROBERT KOOL

JERUSALEM -- Iraq launched its third and bloodiest missile attack against Israel Tuesday night. U.S. Patriot anti-missile missles were sent to thwart the attack, but at least one Iraqi Scud hit a residential area of Tel Aviv, causing many casualties, including 'probably less than five' deaths.

There was no immediate word whether Israel would retaliate for the continued Iraqi attacks, but chief army spokesman Nachman Shai said, 'We have patience.'

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The number of conventionally armed Scuds fired by Iraq was not known. Shai told Israel Radio that two Patriots were launched, but it was unknown whether any of the incoming missiles had been intercepted.

At least one missile exploded in Tel Aviv, Israel's most populous city, shortly after 8:30 p.m. local time (1:30 p.m. EST). Shai said two buildings, including at least one apartment building, were hit and about 20 surrounding buildings and dozens of cars sustained varying degrees of damage. 'It was a hit, a very hard hit,' he said.

Zalman Shoval, Israel's ambassador to the United States, said in Washington that there were 'a number of dead' from the missile explosion. 'The exact number is not yet known, probably less than five. We have 70 injured, some of them severly, but most not.'

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Shai said at least 60 people were injured to some degree by the blast.

Israel Television showed rescue workers carrying blood-covered victims on stretchers to many ambulances, taking them from the apartment building, which was razed by the missile.

A special military rescue team was trying to dig out survivors trapped in the debris, and 33 ambulances and 92 medics were sent to the scene, Israel Radio reported.

The attack was the first on Israel since the Patriot missiles, manned by U.S. crews until Israelis could be trained to use them, arrived during the weekend. The Patriots, which have had great success in defending Saudi Arabia, were the first weapons ever manned by U.S. military personnel on Israeli soil.

Previous Iraqi missile attacks were conducted before dawn Friday and shortly after sunrise Saturday. Damage and casualties were minimal in those attacks.

Israel has vowed to defend itself from any Iraqi assaults, which could complicate the U.S.-led alliance against Iraq, which includes some longtime Israeli enemies. So far there has been no military response by the Jewish state.

Asked if the latest attack meant Israel finally would retaliate, Shai said, 'That's premature. We won't jump to those conclusions. We have patience.'

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Shai reiterated that Israel would choose the time and place for any retaliation. 'We are at war. They are firing missiles at us,' he said. But he added that Israelis would have to learn to live with the missile threat fot the time being.

Health Minister Ehud Olmert said Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and President Bush were in frequent telephone contact to discuss the latest attack.

In Washington, Bush condemned the attack and praised Israel for 'remarkable restraint in the face of this aggression,' White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said in a statement.

In Jerusalem, Deputy Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was Asked about the effectiveness of the Patriots in defending Israel against Iraqi missile attacks. 'We appreciate the excellent work of the Patriot crews,' he said, 'but that only gives part of the answer.'

Netanyahu said he was not surprised at the latest Iraqi attack on civilian targets. 'We expect them to fire more,' he said, and called Iraqi President Saddam Hussein 'a master terrorist ... engaging in classic terror.'

As for any Israeli retaliation, Netanyahu said, 'The important thing is not to act with our hearts, but we are going to act as the people of Israel expect us to, with our heads. We will take the necessary response.'

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Meanwhile, NBC News was briefly forbidden Tuesday to broadcast from Israel for broadcasting casualty reports from the scene of the attack. The ban was lifted after the network apologized. Under Israeli censorship restrictions, reporters may not disclose precise details of enemy missile strikes and Israeli military installations.

The attack followed by hours a request by Finance Minister Yitzhak Modai that the United States provied an additional $3 billion in aid to cover estimated economic losses if the Persian Gulf war lasts a month.

Israel Radio said Modai made the request to visiting Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger. Israel already has asked the United States for $10 billion over five years to pay part of the cost of absorbing incoming waves of Soviet Jews. The quasi-governmental Jewish Agency has estimated that will cost $35 billion.

The special requests are over and above the $3 billion in annual aid Israel receives from the United States. Israel is the single largest recipient of American foreign aid.

Eagleburger gave no assurances that the Bush administration would approve the extra $3 billion, but said a 'partial answer is expected in the next few days,' Modai told Israel Radio.

Eagleburger also met for two hours Tuesday with Shamir, Defense Minister Moshe Arens and Foreign Minister David Levy to discuss 'all aspects' of the gulf crisis, including the economic impact, a Shamir aide told Israel Radio.

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The undersecretary arrived Sunday to coordinate American and Israeli political and military strategies now that Iraq has been invaded. His departure date is not known, the radio said.

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