TEL AVIV (Oct. 11)
A Jordanian fortress high in the hills of Central Palestine dominating Israel’s communications in the Plain of Sharon and threatening many settlements there was wiped out today by a powerful Israel infantry force supported by artillery, in a seven-hour battle described as the worst in the history of the Jordan-Israel armistice.
The Israel reprisal action followed attacks by Jordanian gunners on the Jerusalem Haifa railway line, forays against Israel settlements and the murder of two Israelis in an orange grove near Neve Hadassah on Tuesday. The Israel forces razed to the ground the Arab strong point a kilometer and a half from the center of the town of Qualqilya in the mountainous region which used to be known as “Palestine’s bloody triangle.”
The Jordanians later complained to the United Nations authorities in Jerusalem that they had suffered 40 dead. Israelis estimated Jordanian military losses as exceeding 100. Israel’s losses were officially stated to be 16 dead, two missing and 12 wounded.
ISRAELIS FORCE OCCUPIES TOWN OF 20,000 DURING RAID
The Israel attack was launched at about nine o’clock in the evening and apparently caught the Jordanians by surprise. The Israeli forces first occupied Qualqilya, a town of 20,000 inhabitants, and then moved against the police station a huge rectangular concrete structure originally built by Sir Charles Tegart, British police commissioner under the Mandate, but reinforced and converted into a veritable fortress.
An Israeli force which had land-mined the approaches, blocked relief attempts by a battalion-strength Arab Legion force from the camp near Azzoun. The four towers of the fortress went down in a huge explosion that could be heard in Tel Aviv.
The fortress, atop a hill in an enclave in Israel territory, stood at the narrowest point of Israel’s coastal plain, almost stride the Haifa-Tel Aviv railroad opposite the tower of Kfar Saba. Israelis charged that recent attacks on the railroad had been made from the fortress which had also served as headquarters for commando and infiltrator raids into Israel territory.
The attack on the police station was followed by an intensive artillery duel which continued for several hours. Observers reported that 25-pounders were used in the exchange. Israelis denied Jordan assertions that they used bomber aircraft in the attack. Several Israel settlements in the coastal plain came under Jordanian artillery fire but no casualties there had been reported this morning.
CEASE-FIRE RESTORED ON UN TRUCE CHIEF’S REQUEST
The artillery duel ranged along a ten kilometer stretch of the Jordan-Israel frontier from Eyal, in the north, to Neve Yamin. It reached its heaviest intensity about one o’clock in the morning when the red glare in the skies was visible for miles and the roar of exploding shells could be heard in Tel Aviv. A strict blackout was enforced in all Israel towns and settlements in the area.
Some time around midnight, Major General E. L. M. Burns, head of the United Nations truce supervisory organization in Palestine, called on both sides for an immediate cease fire. The truce body spokesman, Albert Grant, said that although both sides acceded to the request by 3.30 A.M., firing continued for another hour after that The UN spokesman asserted that Gen. Burns’ first request to the Israelis had gone unheeded.
United Nations observers began an-investigation of the incident this morning on the Jordan side of the frontier since Jordan, alone, had filed a complaint. It was stated at UN headquarters in Jerusalem that their preliminary reports would be cabled to Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold at UN headquarters in New York. Israel did not field a complaint with the truce organization. It has been boycotting the Jordan-Israel Mixed Armistice Commission and the truce apparatus since the commission upheld the Jordan claim that one soldier gone beserk, was solely responsible for the Ramat Rachel massacre.
An emergency meeting of the Mixed Commission was held this afternoon, at Jordan’s request. The Israel delegation did not attend. The UN truce organization reported that the Qualqilya police station was “completely demolished” as was a water pumping station. It said the truce observers were shown the bodies of 48 Jordanians and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers which were later returned to the Israel authorities. Weapons used in the battle were said by the observers to have included 155 and 105 mm artillery, mortars, bazookas and other weapons.
Observers along the frontier reported this morning that hundreds of Jordan villagers could be seen evacuating villages in the frontier zone and moving deeper into Jordan territory with their possessions apparently in fear of a renewal of hostilities.