JERUSALEM (Nov. 3)
The most violent fighting since the end of the War of Liberation erupted along the Nitzana (El Auja) demilitarized zone south of Gaza last night, as Israel forces moved to expel from Israel soil Egyptian troops entrenched in the zone. A Foreign Ministry spokesman announced today that, as of noon, Israel soil had been cleared of Egyptian invaders and that all was quiet.
The fighting, launched with an Israel surprise attack in bright moonlight at a point called El Sabha, ended this morning after the invaders had been driven back with a loss of 50 dead and 40 captured, as well as the loss of a number of heavy guns and light weapons. Israel said that five Israeli soldiers had been killed and 19 wounded in the action. (An Egyptian military spokesman in Cairo asserted that 200 Israelis had been killed in the battle and that Egyptian forces had counterattacked.) Israel spokesmen denied all reports of a counterattack or any other battles except the one last night.
The Israel Cabinet was called into extraordinary session this afternoon to hear a report on the Nitzana action. Present at the meeting were members of the outgoing and incoming governments. Earlier in the day, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Moshe Dayan reported to Premier and Defense Minister David Ben Gurion that Israel soil had been cleared of all enemies.
ISRAEL EXPLAINS ACTION; SAYS EGYPTIANS REJECTED U.N. ORDERS
A Foreign Ministry spokesman revealed that, in order to carry out its mission, the Israel attacking force went across the Egyptian border to silence artillery units supporting the troops in the Nitzana zone, but that when these positions were silenced and the troops on Israel soil had been driven off, there were no Egyptians in Israel and no Israelis on Egyptian-controlled soil. A military spokesman said that the Egyptian force at Nitzana was stationed in platoon positions supported by two artillery units with six-ponders, 20 mm guns and gun carriers and that they were part of a regimental position.
The spokesman reviewed the events leading to last night’s incident, noting that on October 26 and 27 Egyptians moved onto Israel soil in the Nitzana zone and consolidated, extended and entrenched their positions, rejecting–according to the UN truce organization–four UN appeals to withdraw. Subsequently, he said, Gen. E.L.M. Burns’ request from New York to the Egyptians was also rejected, and an Israel warning ignored. “There is no place in Israel for Egyptians–they belong in Egypt and should go there. If they won’t go of their own free will, they must be pushed back,” he said in summation of Israel’s position.
The spokesman said Egypt had been guilty of two violations of the armistice agreement: Egyptian forces had occupied Israel soil; and they had built up their forces behind the demilitarized zone, far in excess of the strength authorized by the pact.
Meanwhile, the UN chairman of the Israel-Egyptian Mixed Armistice Commission protested against the Israel refusal to allow UN observers to leave UN truce headquarters at El Auja last night. An Israel spokesman said that this measure was meant to protect the observers during the night’s attack. He noted that, except for this consideration, the Israelis had never interfered with UN personnel’s freedom of movement, contrary to recent Egyptian restrictions and even firings at observers.