JERUSALEM (Mar. 27)
Syrian forces today again opened fire on Israeli workers engaged in draining the Huleh swamp, in northeastern Israel, wounding one Jew.
Despite the intermittent fire from the Syrians throughout the day, the Israelis continued to operate their tractors and speed the work of swamp drainage and land reclamation of land. The Israelis worked while special police forces from positions on the western bank of the Jordan River returned the fire of the Syrian troops on the eastern shore.
United Nations observers, who entered the demilitarized zone between the two forces today to investigate Syrian charges of Israeli violation of no-man’s-land, themselves came under Syrian machine gun fire, but suffered no casualties. The Syrians charged that two Israeli mortar shells had exploded near a Syrian outpost. U.N. sources here expressed doubt that Israel military personnel had entered the demilitarized zone in violation of the terms of the armistice agreement.
A meeting of the Israeli-Syrian Mixed Armistice Commission is scheduled for tomorrow. Meanwhile, an official announcement here revealed that the meeting of high military officers on the Israeli and Syrian General Staffs, which took place yesterday at the Syrian frontier, concluded “without results.” The meeting, held under the chairmanship of a United Nations official, discussed possible changes in the Israeli-Syrian armistice pact, as well as the conflict over the drainage project.
Huge American excavators are being used in digging the drainage canals. Lake Huleh, whose level will be lowered when the project is completed, is situated in northeastern Israel and its eastern shore borders on Syria. Israeli agricultural authorities estimate that the reclaimed area will increase the value of Israel’s food crop by $10,000,000 a year. Blueprints call for the establishment of 2,000 new farm units on the reclaimed land.
A concession for reclamation of the Huleh swamp area was granted by the Turkish Government to two Syrians in 1914. They were unable to start on the project, and the concession was purchased by Jewish interests during the British mandate in Palestine. The Jewish National Fund later purchased much of the area surrounding the lake. Work on the drainage project finally began this year, but the Syrian Government lodged a protest with the Mixed Armistice Commission, charging that it violates the Israel-Syrian armistice agreement.