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Israel Death from the Skies

3 minute read

The contraption looked like a giant red-and-white kite as it purred across Israel’s northern border from Lebanon. Powered by a lawn mower-size engine and a small propeller, the hang glider whirred its way three miles into Israel. Israeli soldiers posted in south Lebanon heard the strange vehicle, but the helicopter gunships dispatched to identify the intruder could not find it. Finally, the hang glider landed with a thud in a field of thistles just north of the Israeli town of Qiryat Shemona.

Within minutes, the craft’s single passenger was fulfilling his bloody mission. Armed with a Soviet-made Kalashnikov assault rifle, a pistol with a silencer, and several hand grenades, he ran toward a military camp 175 yds. away. He opened fire on a truck outside the base, killing the driver and wounding a woman soldier riding with him. As the attacker hurled grenades and sprayed bullets, the single guard at the gate retreated, allowing the assailant free entry into the camp. The man, who turned out to be a Palestinian guerrilla, had killed six Israeli soldiers and wounded seven others before he was shot to death by a 20-year-old officer who was among those wounded.

It was the most lethal attack against a target inside Israel since March 1978, when eleven Palestinian gunmen killed 37 Israelis and wounded 82 after hijacking a bus. Officials voiced rare criticism of their troops last week, pointing out that those in charge of the camp had taken few or no precautions despite a general military alert. Not only did the guard at the gate leave the area when the shooting started, but many of the soldiers killed and wounded had been playing backgammon and checkers in a “clubhouse” tent when the guerrilla entered the military camp. “How did it happen,” asked Army Chief of Staff Lieut. General Dan Shomron, “that one terrorist killed six soldiers and wounded seven others? We cannot live with an event like this.”

The intruder, whom even Israeli soldiers credited with great skill, was apparently one of two Palestinians dispatched on the suicide mission. The second landed his glider in southern Lebanon in an attempt to evade gunfire from Israeli security forces, who later tracked him down and killed him.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, a P.L.O. splinter group based in Damascus, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was an effort “to revive the armed struggle” against the Jewish state. Israeli officials said they have known for several years that the group’s leader, Ahmed Jibril, was training hang-glider terrorist squads in Syria. Israeli Deputy Chief of Staff Major General Ehud Barak vowed that Jibril’s organization “will in due time pay the price” for its murderous mission.

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