JERUSALEM (Sep. 5)
An uneasy truce continued to mark the tense Gaza strip border between Egypt and Israel today, following conditional acceptance by both countries of a “last ditch” appeal by Maj. Gen E.L.M. Burns, chief of the U.N. truce team for a cease-fire in the area.
The only incident reported in the past twenty-four hours occurred when an Israel patrol inadvertently crossed the demarcation line last night. An Israel spokesman in Tel Aviv said that the patrol was moving in the dunes in the Nir Yitzhak area when it accidentally crossed the border, where it encountered Egyptian troops. Three Israel soldiers were missing, the spokesman said. Reports from the UN’s truce supervision organization, evidently based on information from the Egyptian side of the line, said that two Israelis were killed in that incident.
Gen. Burns’ big push for a cease-fire came Saturday when he sent an appeal to the heads of both governments renewing his cease-fire proposal of August 30. His appeal was worded in such a way that it included reference to acts of sabotage and the laying of mines behind the lines–but it did not state which of the two countries had been responsible for those acts. He closed by setting a deadline for acceptance or rejection–6 PM Sunday.
Earlier, a spokesman at United Nations headquarters here said that Gen. Burns had cabled a request to U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold that a meeting of the Security Council be called to deal with the situation. He reported that Gen. Burns had said he had done all he could and that the time for Council action had arrived. Gen Buros action was unprecedented, since Council meeting are generally called by request of UN member states.
Israel’s reply to the Canadian truce chief came first; in it the Israel Government took note of the fact that the United Nation had, as yet, taken no note of the “salient feature of the situation”–that Israel had been acting only in self-defense after severe provocation Israel also noted the reference to sabotage and said that its acceptance of the cease-fire in no way accepted the implication “that Israel, like Egypt. has been guilty of the acts enumerated.” But, the letter to burns continued, Israel had already promised that she would not act except if provoked by Egyptian acts, and she intended to abide by that promise. “This means, in effect, that Israel has accepted your request for a ceasefire,” the Israel statement said, Egypt’s acceptance came just 15 minutes before the Burns deadline. Immediately afterward, he conferred with Prime Minister Moshe Sharett, but no details of that conference were made public.
The political phase of the situation was acted out against the background of series of incidents that kept nerves on edge. The week-end’s toll of such incidents included the blowing up of two wells in Israel, an attack on an Israel water pipeline, an exchange of fire that began with Egyptian shelling of the Beeri and yad Mordechai settlements–all through Saturday’s morning hours–and the discovery by an Israel patrol of five new mines near Beeri.
The Israel Army’s view of the situation and how to handle it, were expressed in an address delivered by Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Moshe Dayan, printed in the Army weekly “Bamachaneh. ” The General said that nothing could be done to prevent marauders from blowing up a well or killing a family while it slept–”but we can set a high price for our blood so high that the Arab governments would be obliged to punish marauders.” He emphasized that the Israel actions were punitive and not revenge actions and that they were intended as a warning to the Arab governments that Israel would play havoc across their borders if they could not discipline their own citizens.