TEL AVIV (Oct. 31)
Israel forces pressed forward relentlessly today in the Sinal Peninsula as Egyptian land, sea and air forces tried to stem their advance and carry the battle to the heart of Israel territory.
An Egyptian attempt to cripple Israel’s supply services by bombarding Haifa, the country’s chief port, ended ignominiously today when an Egyptian naval frigate, the Ibrahim Awal, was shelled into surrender when it opened fire on port installations. The frigate, originally a British naval unit which was recently reconditioned, will be added to the Israel naval forces. Its crew of 250 was to be sent off to a prisoner of war camp.
In the air, Israel’s young air force claimed seven Egyptian victims–four MIG-15s acquired by Egypt from Czechoslovakia, and three British-built Vampire jet fighters. One Israel fighter was damaged in the series of air clashes but returned to its base.
Terse Israel communiques today gave the first real clues to Israel’s military objectives. They emerged not as the Suez Canal zone but as a clean-up of the entire Egypt-Israel border and the liquidation of the so-called Gaza Strip–the long narrow finger of Palestine territory stretching from the border along the Mediterranean coast to within a few miles of Tel Aviv. This narrow coastal area has been the base from which hundreds of attacks have been made on Israel and its control by Egypt made it a dagger penetrating deep into Israel.
Yesterday, the Israel land forces, with air support, captured the vital junction of Kusseima, about 10 miles inside the Egyptian frontier and directly below the El Auja-Nitzana demilitarized zone. To reach this point, the Israelis swept some 70 miles through Egyptian territory from their take-off point just above the port of Elath on the Gulf of Akaba.
Today, the Israelis pressed on to the west, aiming at the Mediterranean coast, severing the Gaza Strip from Egypt proper. Israel land units were reported in combat today with Egyptian defenders near Abu Ageila, midway between Kusseima and El Arish on the coast, a key point on the rail line from Gaza port to Ismailia on the Suez Canal.
(In Washington, word has been received by government officials that an Israel armored task force has driven completely across the Gaza Strip to the Mediterranean Sea, isolating important units of the Egyptian Army which are now surrounded.)
The Voice of Israel radio broadcast warnings to the Arabs of the Gaza Strip throughout the day today, telling them that the zone would soon be completely encircled by Israel forces and that they should quietly await further instructions. Nearly a quarter of a million Arabs–the overwhelming majority of them refugees from the Arab-Israel war of 1948–are jammed into the tiny Gaza area.
REACH POSITIONS WITHIN TEN MILES OF SUEZ CANAL
Israel’s military command was sparing in its information as to the direction of the army’s moves and the zones of combat. It indicated today that there was heavy fighting at points in the Sinai Peninsula and also indicated that Israel forces had reached positions within ten miles of the Suez Canal.
An exodus of Arab refugees from the Sinai areas now held by the Israelis was reported today. Army units engaged in mopping up operations, were rounding up prisoners in the Kusseima area but were not molesting the civilians fleeing towards Egypt. Masses of Arab refugees were reported plodding on foot towards Egypt along the right-of-way of a disused railway built by the British in the first World War.
Meanwhile, it was reported over the Cairo radio that British jet bombers are attacking Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said, Ismailia, and Suez simultaneously. Fires are burning in a number of places. (In London, Reuters reported that immediately before the Anglo-French operation began, Israel air force planes destroyed “scores” of Egyptian tanks and military vehicles in attacks on convoys east of Ismailia on the Suez Canal. The convoys were moving reinforcements preparing for action against the Angle French forces.)