TEL AVIV (Feb. 1)
Three Israelis were dead, seven were injured, and a number of settlements suffered damage from Syrian shelling after a night during which Israeli forces wiped out a Syrian military base.
In the morning, hours after a cease-fire had been arranged by the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization, sporadic shelling continued from the Syrian side. At the same time, Israeli jet fighters chased from the skies four Syrian Russian-made MIG-17 fighter planes attempting to invade Israeli air space. The Syrian planes, intercepted above Israel’s northernmost settlement of Metullah, were chased back across their own territory.
Syrian casualties and damage were estimated to be “much higher” than Israel’s. Fifty houses were leveled by the Israelis in the abandoned Syrian village of Tawafik, which the Syrian Army had turned into a garrison overlooking the Israeli settlements in and near the demilitarized zone, southeast of Lake Tiberias. A quantity of Syrian machineguns and small arms was captured by the Israelis in the raid on Tawafik–the largest military action undertaken by Israel since the period preceding the Sinai campaign of 1956.
The damage, on the Israeli side, was suffered in the settlements of Maagan, Deganya, Haon and Shaar Hagolan, where Syrian shells landed during the intense fighting in the early hours this morning. None was injured in any of the settlements, all civilians having taken cover in bomb-proof shelters.
LIFE IN DAMAGED ISRAELI SETTLEMENTS RESTORED TO NORMALCY
Life went on as usual in the Israeli settlements this morning. On the Syrian side, Israeli observers saw military ambulances carrying away the casualties who had fallen at Tawafik. The raid into Tawafik was launched shortly after midnight, following four days of fighting in the demilitarized zone near Belt Katzir. The four days of fighting were climaxed yesterday with mortar fire from the Syrian side, costing the Israelis one dead and two injured.
An Israeli army communique issued at dawn today stated: “As a direct result of Syrian provocations and violence in the last few days in the southern demilitarized zone, east of Lake Tiberias, in which one Israeli was killed and two injured, Israeli forces during the night wiped out positions constructed by the Syrians, which disturbed peaceful life in the area. In the operation, houses in the deserted village of Tawafik, which the Syrians had turned into a military base, were destroyed.”
The heavy fighting started just after midnight, after Syrian artillery had opened fire on the fields adjoining the Belt Katzir settlement. Returning the fire, the Israelis then advanced toward the Syrian gun positions at Tawafik and the area immediately surrounding that abandoned village.
Gen. Carl C. Van Horn, chief of staff of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization, called upon both sides to cease fire, and the cease-fire order went officially into effect a few minutes after 4 a. m. However, Syrian positions continued lobbing occasional shells across the border.
The dispute concerns a narrow, 10-acre area in the demilitarized zone on Israel’s side of a drainage canal dug there with the consent of the UNTSO. The Syrians have been sending in groups of soldiers disguised as farmers to cultivate the land and, according to Israel, change the status quo by establishing “new facts.” Israel had previously notified the UNTSO that it was willing to discuss Syria’s claims to the “right” to cultivate land in the disputed area, but that it would not do so under military pressure.