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Secrecy Veils Decision of Israel Cabinet on Strait of Tiran

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After a five-hour Cabinet meeting discussing the question of the withdrawal of Israel forces from the Strait of Tiran in the light of the absence of any effective guarantees of freedom of navigation, the Israel Government issued last night a single-sentence, noncommittal commence. It declared “Political questions were discussed.”

In view of the published decisions of caucuses of the major partners in the government coalition–Mapai, Achdut Avodah, Mapam–expressing opposition to withdrawal without guarantees, few observers here doubt the nature of the cabinet’s decision. Speculation has it however, that actually the Cabinet left to the Premier, Foreign Minister and Israel delegation at the United Nations a certain scope of flexibility in the implementation of the Cabinet’s decision.

As proof of her intention to comply with the General Assembly resolution demanding withdrawal from Egyptian territory, Israel will inform Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold today of further withdrawal in northern Sinai.

Political circles in Jerusalem, meanwhile, pointed out an absence of differences in principle between the UN and Israel over evacuation of the Strait of Tiran. Israel announced on November 8, its readiness to comply with the Assembly’s withdrawal resolution, while freedom of navigation is an international principle recognized by the UN. Thus the actual issue between Israel and the UN is a question of how to effectively combine withdrawal with effective insurance of freedom of navigation.

It is understood that Israel has already asked the UN to urgently study what physical guarantees are necessary for that purpose. Israel has also brought to the attention of the United States that since the dismantling of Egyptian coastal guns, freedom of navigation exists in the Strait of Tiran and that, therefore, any attempt by Egypt to reinstitute a blockade would constitute a war-like act by Egypt and would almost certainly elicit an appropriate response.

The exchange of some 5,000 Egyptian soldiers taken prisoner during Israel’s one-week campaign in the Sinai Peninsula is scheduled to take place this week for the four Israelis captured by the Egyptian forces. The exchange will be conducted under Red Cross auspices, probably in El Arish, after Israel evacuates the town. The offer was originally made by Israel in November, but President Nasser hesitated to make the exchange because it will be proof of the falsity of his claims to the Egyptian people that Egypt did not lose the Sinai campaign.

Israel forces have completed their arrangements to pull out of El Arish. UN Emergency Force contingents, headed by Maj. Gen. E. L.M. Burns, will take over at noon tomorrow. Yesterday, Arab notables in El Arish were guests of the Israel Army in a tour of Israeli cities and colonies. Later, the Arabs tendered a reception to Lt. Col Kharsina Aharon, the Israeli military governor of El Arish, as an expression of their gratitude for the manner in which Israeli forces behaved in the city during the 80-day occupation.

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