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Israel Cabinet Discusses Bulgaria’s Shooting Down of El Al Plane

The Israel Cabinet heard today Premier Moshe Sharett’s report on the “brutal” shooting down of the Israel EI Al Constellation by Bulgarian gunners last Wednesday. Afterwards, the Cabinet issued a statement expressing its abhorrence of this “horrible act” and expressing its sympathy for the families of the 58 victims. Because it is impossible to identify the bodies of the victims, the Cabinet accepted the Premier’s suggestion that they be buried in a common grave.

Meanwhile, a special correspondent of Maariv, a Tel Aviv evening newspaper reported from Bulgaria–on the basis of eye-witness accounts and from sources on the Israel investigating commission–that the EI AI plane was pursued and shot down by Russian-made Bulgarian jet planes. The Maariv account says that two Bulgarian planes forced the Constellation to leave the air corridor between Greece and Bulgaria and veer toward Bulgaria. Both jets were firing on the Constellation which exploded in mid-air, the Maariv correspondent said. He added that the British air attache in Sofia was also of the opinion that the Constellation was shot down from the air, not from the ground as the Bulgarian version had it.

In the wake of Bulgaria’s offer this weekend to pay partial compensation for the material damages resulting from the incident. Dr. Walter Eytan, director general of the Israel Foreign Ministry, handed Christo Goutev, Bulgarian Charge d’Affaires here, a note demanding full compensation as well as punishment of those who were responsible. He also insisted once again that the Israel commission of inquiry, whose six members were encamped on the Greek side of the Bulgarian frontier near the site of the crash, should be given entry into Bulgarian territory to view the wreckage.

Later this weekend, the Bulgarian Government retreated from its position of refusing to admit the commission, and allowed three members of the group to come air. This was in addition to Baruch Nir, Israel Charge d’Affaires at Sofia, who was allowed to go to Petrich, scene of the crash, earlier.

Meanwhile, EI AI has announced that it has rerouted its flights from Tel Aviv-Vienna and Tel Aviv-Zurich so that they will travel via Rome, rather than Istanbul. This will end the necessity of travelling near Bulgarian territory. Separate direct flights will be maintained between Tel Aviv and Istanbul. EI AI stressed that it will continue to maintain all its regular transatlantic and European flights and has replaced the downed craft with a Constellation placed at its disposal by South African Airways.

Louis A. Pincus, manager of the airline, in a statement here last night, noted that international practice required that in the event of aviation accidents an investigating committee should be permitted to enter the country where the plane met disaster and should be provided with all facilities for carrying out its investigation. In some cases, both countries might establish a joint commission to look into the matter, he noted.

“It is astonishing that four days passed before a part of the (investigating) committee was permitted to cross the Bulgarian border. This delay may considerably influence the efficiency of the investigation because traces which would enable the establishment of facts might disappear,” Mr. Pincus stressed. Eye-witness accounts from the Greek side of the border near the scene of the crash speak of “great activity” around the wreck. While these accounts do not reveal particulars of the activity, they rule out investigative activity. Mr. Pincus declared.

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