As Israelis celebrate, government demands elimination of Iraq's missile launchers WAR IN THE GULF


JERUSALEM -- The government pushed yesterday for the elimination of Iraqi missile launchers, while festive Israelis marked the cease-fire in the Gulf war by unsealing rooms, storing gas masks and celebrating an ancient holiday that commemorates survival.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said that the cease-fire "clearly should include an end to the missile attacks, as well as elimination of the missile launchers and the non-conventional weapons stockpiled in Iraq."

In addition to "the elimination of the Iraqi despot," a reference to Saddam Hussein, Mr. Shamir said in an official statement that he hopes for "an opening towards peace with other Arab states in addition to Egypt."

State-supported Israel radio reported last night that Israel was engaged in "intense diplomatic activity" to ensure that Iraq's Scud missile launchers were destroyed and that Iraq could not again develop chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. The report did not elaborate.

Mr. Shamir has said that Mr. Hussein must be deposed if there is to be peace in the Middle East. The prospect that he might survive in power has narrowed Israel's attention to the dismantling of Iraq's military.

Brig. Gen. Nachman Shai, the chief military spokesman, refused to rule out further Iraqi missile attacks or possible Israeli retaliation. But Defense Minister Moshe Arens said he doubted that Iraq would fire more missiles and break the cease-fire. General Shai and other officials refused to say whether the time for possible retaliation had passed.

General Shai said that Israel wanted to see Iraq's military crushed -- and that most of it had been. "We should all appreciate what was achieved so far," he said.

Mr. Arens told Israel radio that Israel was ready to begin regional arms control talks, even though security challenges remain.

Thirty-nine Iraqi missiles, all with conventional warheads, were fired at Israel from Jan. 18 to Feb. 25. Two Israelis were killed directly by the missiles, 12 others were killed indirectly and 228 people were wounded, most of them lightly. Property damage was considerable.

While the government was shifting from its passive role during the war to an equally nervous position at the center stage of postwar diplomacy, average Israelis threw off their wartime restraints and flung themselves into festivities related to the holiday of Purim.

Purim commemorates the escape of Jews from almost certain destruction during the Babylonian exile, or captivity, at the hands of a Persian ruler in the fifth century B.C.

As a symbol of Jewish survival, Purim took on fresh meaning yesterday. Children and adults, their faces painted to look like those of clowns, cavorted in a Halloween-like atmosphere.

Some children wore hats that looked like Scud missiles or U.S.-built Patriot anti-missile missiles. Others savored the moment to the fullest, wearing fake Saddam Hussein mustaches and carrying Iraqi flags.

In related developments yesterday:

* Three European airlines said that they would resume flights to Israel suspended because of the gulf war, Reuters said. All foreign airlines except U.S.-based Tower Air stopped flying to Israel when insurance rates soared before the start of the war. Israeli national carrier El Al and the domestic airline Arkia continued flying during the war.

* A Jewish seminary student was found stabbed to death in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, and police said they believed that the slayer was a Palestinian with political motives, the Associated Press reported. Mayor Teddy Kollek called the killing of Elhanan Atalia, 27, "a wretched event marring what should have been a happy day" because of the cease-fire in the gulf conflict.

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