JERUSALEM, JAN. 18 (FRIDAY) -- An Israeli army official said Iraqi missiles that exploded in and around Israel early this morning appeared to contain conventional warheads.
At least seven persons were reported wounded and taken to hospitals.
Hours after the attack, Israel radio said Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's cabinet would meet to consider a counterattack.
A government official said seven missile explosions had been reported in Israel, mostly in the Tel Aviv area and Haifa. He said none of those injured was suffering from the effects of chemical weapons, but the official said he could not confirm whether any chemical warheads fell on the country.
The missiles fired were Soviet-made, high-explosive Scud missiles modified by Iraq so they could travel the 360 miles between the two countries. According to Israeli experts, the Iraqi conventional missiles carry warheads of less than 500 pounds.
Residents where one missile struck reported seven people injured there, and Israeli army spokesman Gen. Nachman Shai also spoke of seven people hurt, but it was unclear how many were injured overall in the attacks. Israel radio reported from Tel Aviv's Ichilov hospital that the wounded taken there were suffering from concussive or blast wounds.
"The damage is minimal," Shai said in a later television appearance.
"The United States has promised an appropriate response" to the attack "and the government ministers will have to decide this morning whether they are satisfied" to let U.S. forces respond or whether Israel should do so itself, Israel radio said. The United States has asked Israel to stay out of the fighting, fearing that its involvement would fracture the U.S.-Arab coalition opposing Iraq.
Official sources said missiles landed in the Haifa area, in the area of Ramat Gan, or western Tel Aviv, and in several suburbs and towns south of the city, including Rehovot and Kiriat Ata.
"We are talking about broken glass, broken windows, lots of hysteria, but no chemical weapons and no large number of serious casualties," one senior official said.
An army official said there had been many rumors and reports of chemical weapons strikes around the country, including Jerusalem. However, he said, none of the reports had proved to be true by 5 a.m. today, nearly three hours after the missiles first landed.
Air raid sirens sounded in Jerusalem about 2:15 a.m. local time, (7:15 p.m. EST). State radio and television advised Israelis to put on army-issued gas masks and enter sealed rooms in their homes. People waited for an hour before the radio carried word of an attack. Fifteen minutes later, broadcast announcements told Israelis that they could take their masks off.
Iraq had long threatened to strike Israel in response to any attack by the U.S.-led alliance in the Persian Gulf. Before today, the Israeli government had insisted it would respond to any attack by Iraq, despite U.S. pressure to stay out of the war.
The Israeli air force commander warned earlier this week that Israeli planes would fly over Jordan in any counterattack against Iraq, despite Jordan's assertions that it would resist any move by Israeli planes through its air space. The air force commander, Gen. Avihu Ben Nun, said it would take from an hour to 90 minutes for Israeli planes to reach targets in Iraq once they received the go-ahead for an attack.
Military authorities had continued emergency civil defense measures here Thursday night, saying there was still a chance that Iraq could try to strike Israel with planes or mobile-launched missiles that survived initial air strikes by the United States and its allies.
Official sources said before the attack that despite U.S. strikes Thursday on two bases in western Iraq, where missiles had been deployed within range of Israeli cities, they were concerned about Iraqi mobile-launch missiles that could have survived initial bombing raids.
Israelis were told by the army beginning early Thursday morning to remain in their homes and keep their army-issued gas masks nearby in preparation for a possible attack. All 1.7 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip were placed under curfew this morning, and the army warned Arabs that anyone leaving his home would do so at the risk of his life.
Authorities reported disturbances by Palestinians in two East Jerusalem neighborhoods early Thursday and placed them under curfew.
However, the outburst of unrest by Iraq's many supporters in the occupied lands, predicted by both Israeli and Palestinian spokesmen, had not materialized by early today. Israel radio reported that mosques in the West Bank and Gaza broadcast news of the war, together with cries of "Allahu Akbar," or "God is great," but the tough army curfew appeared to have inhibited demonstrations.
Jerusalem police complained that demonstrators in the Arab neighborhood of Silwan responded to volleys of tear gas by putting on the gas masks they had been issued by the army for protection from an Iraqi chemical warhead. The army has threatened to open fire on Arabs who use the masks against tear gas.
Iraq has developed and tested a number of missiles with limited success, most of them modified versions of the Soviet Scud-B:
Scud-B: Mobile Soviet ballistic missile with a range of about 175 miles. Launchers are mounted on trucks. Warhead: About 2,200 lbs.
Al-Hussein: Iraqi-modified version of the Scud with an increased range of 375 miles can carry high-explosive warheads. Warhead: About 250 lbs.
Al-Abbas: Another Iraqi-modified Scud with an increased range of about 500 miles. Warhead: About lbs.
Modifying the Scud to increase range has decreased accuracy. During the Persian Gulf War the inaccurate missiles were used as weapons of terror, lobbed into Iraqi population centers during the bloody "War of the Cities."