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The World: The Raid: ‘A Score to Settle’

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TIME’S Jerusalem correspondent, Marlin Levin, and Reporter Daniel Drooz were both on the scene during the fedayeen raid and Israeli counterattack on the Savoy Hotel. Their report:

The first sounds of trouble came shortly before midnight when gunfire abruptly shattered the raucous gaiety of Tel Aviv’s waterfront, a center of the city’s night life. After killing a passing Israeli soldier who fired at them as they came up off the beach from their rubber dinghy, the commandos, loaded down with rucksacks and Kalashnikov rifles, ran down Samuel Esplanade, the main shore drive, firing at a movie theater and tossing grenades at a wedding hall. Passers-by fled in all directions, but few suspected an Arab attack. Said Gabi Edri, 17, a waiter at a wedding reception: “We thought they were criminals with a score to settle.”

Passing the large seafront Ambassador Hotel, the guerrillas turned down a side street to the colorful but seedy 28-room Savoy, a favorite spot for higher-priced prostitutes. By then the whole neighborhood was aroused. Alya Me-shali, 18, heard the noise and stepped out of her home to see what it was. A bullet struck her, blowing away most of one leg. Sofia Gamliel, an Arabic-speaking native of Morocco, went to the window and was surprised to hear the guerrillas talking below. “They went across the street to the hotel,” said Mrs. Gamliel, “and then I saw through my window shutter bullets of all colors in the sky.”

The commandos stormed into the hotel with guns blazing, killing the desk clerk and a woman guest on the spot. Going from room to room, they quickly rounded up hostages and took them to the fourth floor. Among them were Kochava Levi, 30, a petite, black-haired prostitute who had ducked into the Savoy earlier to avoid a police roundup, and Avrahim Azikri, 28, an interior decorator and a guest in the hotel. “They told us if we behaved, everything would be okay,” Azikri recalled later. “But when I heard the Israeli troops starting their attack, I thought it was every man for himself. The Arabs had put dynamite next to the wall, and I knew they meant to explode it. So I ran into a bathroom and crouched between two walls. When the dynamite went off, plaster fell over me, but ex cept for a shrapnel wound in my shoulder, I was okay.”

Immediately after the guerrillas seized the hotel, Israeli police and soldiers began pouring into the area. Houses adjacent to the Savoy were evacuated. Around the corner, army medical teams set up field hospitals and aid stations. Swarms of neighborhood kids and late-night revelers gathered to watch the action as armored cars took up positions at either end of the street. K-9 corpsmen with German shepherds stationed themselves in alleyways to make sure none of the commandos escaped.

By 12:45 in the morning, Israeli Premier Yitzhak Rabin was at army headquarters in Tel Aviv. Defense Minister Shimon Peres and Chief of Staff Mordecai Gur arrived soon after at Ge’ula Street to take command. Meanwhile, the Arab commandos chose Kochava Levi, who had picked up Arabic in the streets, to translate to Israeli officials their demand for a plane to take the hostages and ten Palestinians held in Israeli prisons to Damascus or Paris. Bandaging the wounded with ripped sheets and shouting the guerrillas’ terms down from a fourth-floor window, Kochava emerged as the unexpected heroine of the drama. She managed to keep negotiations going until the Israelis were ready to attack, and then slipped free herself when she was allowed to accompany one of the wounded from the hotel.

After consulting by phone with Cabinet members in Jerusalem, as well as with Peres and Gur on the scene, Rabin decided that not only would there be no deal but that the attack on the guerrillas would be quick and decisive. Using darkness as their cover, two specially trained assault teams crept into the alley near the Savoy. At 5:13 a.m., shortly before sunrise, two short bursts of automatic weapons fire signaled the Israeli attack. A few moments of quiet passed; then the assault troops opened fire on the hotel from all directions. The sound of grenades and mortars exploding was almost lost in the din of small arms and heavy machine guns as Israelis and terrorists exchanged fire.

The initial shooting lasted for five minutes. After a brief lull, there came sporadic bursts of gunfire from inside the Savoy, then the long staccato of a Kalashnikov. It was answered by the wind-sucking thump of an Israeli bazooka fired from the beach 100 yds. away. Suddenly the building shook with a tremendous explosion as a bomb rigged by the terrorists went off. The hotel’s third and fourth floors collapsed in rubble. The attack was over. It was 5:23 a.m.

When daylight came, the charred head of one of the guerrillas could be seen in the wreckage of what had been the hotel’s third floor. Blood ran down the broken concrete foundation, and bloodstained bedding billowed in the morning breeze. A three-man team, assisted by a cherrypicker crane, began searching the debris for bodies.

As an army spokesman drew up a list of the dead and wounded, a stretcher passed. There was a body on it, about the size of a child, wrapped in an old yellow shawl that was now a shroud. Authorities tentatively identified it as that of an elderly Frenchwoman who had been staying at the hotel.

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