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Anxiety in Israel Rises after Iraqi Missile Attack

January 18, 1991

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Israelis clogged telephone circuits on Friday, carried gas masks if they ventured outdoors, and fled their homes in threatened Tel Aviv for hotels in Jerusalem.

Iraq’s missile barrage on coastal cities early Friday raised anxieties and slowed to a crawl the normal frenetic pace of life in the Jewish state. Air raid sirens wailed again Friday night throughout Israel, warning of a repeat attack and further heightening fears.

Army psychologist Moshe Even-Chen went on national television to assure the jittery public that fear was OK.

″The public is worried,″ he said. ″They have butterflies in their stomachs. ... This is legitimate.″

Anxiety could be seen in the vacant streets as most Israelis heeded the government’s emergency regulations and stayed home. Few buses and taxis ran.

People short of food made quick forays to grocery stores, almost always with a gas mask slung over the shoulder.

At the Co-op Supermarket in the Jerusalem suburb of East Talpiot, shoppers cleared the shelves of milk and bread.

Julian Nochomovitz, 34, spoke not of fear but of a desire to avenge Friday’s attack, the first since Iraqi President Saddam Hussein nine months ago began threatening to hurl chemical warheads at Israel.

″Sitting in my gas mask, I wanted to napalm him,″ Nochomovitz said. ″I wouldn’t lose much sleep if he were fried.″

Across town, Roy Makov waited in a long checkout line in the Supersol market.

″On one hand, it is tense here,″ he acknowledged. ″On the other hand, there is security.″

He said his faith was in the Israeli military, which acts on the premise that ″if we don’t protect ourselves, no one else will.″

The missiles, with conventional warheads, landed in the coastal cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa, slightly injuring 12 people, hospitals said.

Magen David Adom, the national emergency service, said an additional 500 people were treated in their homes or at hospitals for anxiety attacks, heart trouble or injecting themselves unnecessarily with the antidote for nerve gas.

Scores of Tel Aviv families later abandoned their homes and checked into hotels in Jerusalem, which is considered less of a target because it is the site of Islam’s sacred Al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques.

At the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Arab east Jerusalem, bookings increased from 20 to nearly 300 as the day progressed, and both the Jerusalem Hilton and Sheraton were full of Tel Aviv families.

Bezek, the national telephone company, appealed to Israelis to limit both domestic and international calls because circuits were jammed by people calling each other to check that they had survived the missiles unscathed.

Almost no one was on the streets in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, which remained under army curfew orders for a second day.

Several Palestinians reached by phone said they were upset that gas masks had not been distributed in the territories, except to several thousand Arab employees of the Israeli military government and Arab emergency workers.

Mahmoud Husseini, father of three girls, said: ″I personally am not afraid. ... I’m only concerned about the little ones.″

Palestinians complained there were no emergency sirens in the territories, and some Israelis said they didn’t hear any warning signals either.

Israel radio announced that from now on it would broadcast siren signals so no one would miss them.

To avoid confusion, Israeli Religion Minister Avner Shaki decreed that the sirens that normally signal the start of the Jewish Sabbath at sundown Friday would not wail this week so they could not be mistaken for emergency signals.

Update hourly