The World: The Raid: 'A Score to Settle'

  • Share
  • Read Later

(2 of 2)

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.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. Next Page