JERUSALEM (Sep. 27)
The Israel Cabinet met today in special session to consider the latest Syrian threats against Israel in connection with Israel’s drainage project in the Lake Huleh region. It was reported that the Syrians had presented a second ultimatum to the headquarters of the United Nations truce supervision machinery demanding that Israel cease immediately the digging of a nine-mile canal for the diversion of a portion of the Jordan River waters to a hydroelectric station.
As the tension mounted here, a Foreign Ministry spokesman announced that Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett last night met with the representatives of the United States, Britain and France at his home in Tel Benjamin to discuss the Syrian situation. Present at the private conference were British Ambassador Sir Francis Evans, American Charge d’Affaires H. Russel and French Ambassador Pierre E. Gilbert.
The Israeli press in Tel Aviv today attacked the demand by UN truce chief Maj. Gen. Vagn Bennike last week that Israel cease immediately all work on the canal until an agreement had been reached with Syria on how the project was to be carried through. Asserting that the demand was against the interests of progress and development, the newspapers chided the Danish General for acting in haste and having yielded to the continuous threats of the Syrians. The press said that while the situation was serious an open fight could easily be averted unless the Syrians open fire.
ISRAEL REJECTS DEMAND TO CEASE HULEH RECLAMATION
The latest developments which the Cabinet studied today followed upon the Israeli rejection of Gen. Bennike’s demand. The Israeli statement, contained in a letter from Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett to Gen. Bennike, declared: “The Government of Israel fails to see any justification in the conclusion that peaceful work of an eminently constructive and beneficial character which is in progress in the demilitarized zone should be discontinued.”
Arab broadcasts monitored in Israel this week-end reported that Syria had cancelled all leaves of men and officers in her army following the Israeli refusal to accede to Gen, Bennike’s demand, which Mr. Sharett said was in violation of the UN Charter and the armistice agreement. An Israeli military spokesman, commenting on the Syrian army’s move and on increased military activity observed in the Syrian area near the border, warned: “If Syrian opens fire on our borders, we will take suitable steps to insure the security of our population.”
(A report from Cairo today said that Mustafa el Shahaby, Syrian Minister to Egypt, had called on Egyptian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Fawzi to discuss united Arab action against Israel. Late last week, Arab League deputy secretary general Ahmed Shukeiry had charged in Cairo that Israel was planning to “steal” all the Jordan River water flow by pumping it into the projected canal. Also this week-end, Lebanon joined Syria and Jordan in formally protesting the Lake Huleh project which the Arab, charge will dry up land in Syria and Jordan.)
Meanwhile, UN observers were checking Israel land office records in Safad to determine whether any of the land on which the Israelis were digging their canal belonged to Arab residents of the area. Work continued on the project today without interruption, despite the international tension.