Israel Says it Foiled Palestinian Attack on Beachfront Hotels
NIZZANIM, Israel (AP) _ Israeli soldiers killed four Palestinian guerrillas and captured 12 on Wednesday as they sped toward the coastline in speedboats to launch attacks coinciding with the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.
The guerrilla faction of Abul Abbas, mastermind of the Achille Lauro hijacking, claimed responsibility. It claimed all the boats reached their targets and that 11 guerrillas escaped and rocketed the coast at Tel Aviv and nearby towns.
The group said the attacks were in retaliation for the killing of seven Palestinians by an Israeli civilian last week, and for the assassination of a Palestinian military leader two years ago.
The Israeli army said the guerrillas planned to attack beachfront hotels filled with people celebrating Shavuot, which marks the giving of the Ten Commandments. The six small speedboats were sent from a mothership that sailed from Libya, the army alleged.
No Israelis were killed or injured, the army said, although one guerrilla speedboat outran an Israeli patrol boat and splashed ashore near a crowded Mediterranean beach club.
Police evacuated a 30-mile stretch of coast south of Tel Aviv jammed with people on holiday.
Of the six guerrilla vessels, only two got near shore, authorities said.
One carried 11 Palestinians. It was attacked by helicopters and troops as it sliced into an almost empty beach near Nizzanim, 18 miles south of Tel Aviv. Four guerrillas were killed there and seven captured, the army said.
Zvi Amitai, a resident of the Nizzanim communal farm, said he was collecting driftwood when he saw the speedboat and heard gunfire. The guerrillas landed 20 yards away from him.
″They jumped from the boat and didn’t shoot, as if they didn’t see us,″ he said. ″They just ran for the dunes. I certainly feel like I won the lottery.″
Five other guerrillas surrendered aboard another boat that was intercepted by Israeli vessels near a beach north of Tel Aviv. The other vessels broke down or were abandonded at sea, the army said.
The armed forces chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Shomron, said the attack boats were armed with rockets, machine guns and anti-aircraft missiles.
″The security forces ... were able to frustrate today an operation that, if it was carried out successfully, would have caused a great many casualties to Israeli citizens,″ he told a news conference in Tel Aviv.
Army intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Amnon Shahak told the same news conference: ″The goal was to attack the hotels in the Tel Aviv region to conduct a massacre.″
Deputy Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed the PLO violated its pledge not to engage in terrorism and was responsible for an act that could have ″plunged this whole region into bloodshed and a broad war.″
It was unclear whether the attack had the endorsement of PLO chief Yasser Arafat, who pledged in December 1988 to abandon terrorism.
The faction that claimed responsibility is the Palestine Liberation Front, a pro-Arafat faction. Its leader is Mohammed Abbas, whose nom de guerre is Abul Abbas. An Italian court convicted him in absentia of masterminding the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro, during which American Leon Klinghoffer was killed.
Abbas was sentenced to life in prison, but his whereabouts is not known. A PLF spokesman said Abbas was not in Iraq, where Arab leaders Wednesday concluded a three-day summit with a sharp denunciation of U.S. policies toward Israel.
Foreign Minister Moshe Arens said he hoped the incident would convince Washington of the need to abandon its dialogue with the PLO.
State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said in Washington, ″The United States is horrified at this terrorist attack.″ She added that if it is determined the attackers had PLO connections, ″we would view this as a very serious matter.″
In Baghdad, PLF representative Hussein el-Abed said the attack was aimed at ″teaching the enemy a new lesson on the road to liberating Palestine.″
He said the attack was in revenge for the killing of PLO military chief Khalil Al-Wazir, whose death in Tunis in April 1988 was widely blamed on Israel.
The front, in statements issued in Lebanon and Iraq, said the raid also was in retaliation for the killing of seven Palestinians by an Israeli civilian last week.
It said 15 guerrillas - not 16, as Israeli officials reported - attacked points near Tel Aviv.
″All the boats succeeded in reaching their specified targets,″ it said.
Al-Abed confirmed that four guerrillas were killed but denied the others were captured.
The Israeli army said the mothership fled toward Port Said in Egypt and that Egyptian authorities were notified.
Sunday’s attack also came amid a cycle of violence set off by the May 20 massacre of the Palestinian laborers.
The slaying touched off riots in the occupied territories that left 15 Palestinians dead. A pipe bomb explosion in a crowded market killed an elderly Israeli man.
Wednesday’s raid was the largest Palestinian infiltration attempt by sea since March 11, 1978, when a dozen guerrillas from Arafat’s Fatah PLO faction came ashore north of Tel Aviv and hijacked a bus. The bus headed for Tel Aviv and 33 people died in a shootout between the guerrillas and Israeli forced.
The last infiltration was on March 8, 1988, when another Fatah squad infiltrated from Egypt and hijacked a bus near Tel Aviv. Three passengers were killed and eight wounded.