JERUSALEM (Aug. 22)
With both sides armed to the hilt, each on its own side of the common frontier, Syria and Israel continued today to face each other midst grave tensions along Lake Tiberias. The lake is entirely in Israel’s jurisdiction, but Syria insists on probing its waters for recovery of a Syrian jet fighter and a Syrian pilot, both shot down by Israel last week.
Syria’s continued insistence that it must be allowed to try to salvage its MIG-17 and to bring up the body of the pilot of that ship — which Israel brought down into the lake –was relayed to Israel’s Foreign Ministry this morning by Lt. Gen. Odd Bull, chief of staff of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization.
Gen. Bull had just returned today from a conference in Damascus with the chief of staff of Syria’s army, and with other Syrian officials. He reported that they are adamant in their insistence that they have a “right” to try to salvage their own plane and pilot from the bottom of the lake. Failing to obtain from Israel recognition of that “right,” Gen. Bull reported, Syria insists it will not allow Israel to salvage its Coast Guard cutter, stuck on a reef about 200 yards from the lake shore nearest to Syrian territory.
ISRAEL ASKS U.N. GENERAL TO CONTINUE HIS TALKS WITH SYRIA
While asking Gen. Bull to continue his negotiations with Syria, Israel made it clear today that it will deny to Syria any rights whatever regarding sovereignty over Lake Tiberias. Israel pointed out once more that under a treaty between France and Britain following World War I, the entire lake was placed in Palestine under British jurisdiction. To make sure that there would be no disagreement about British jurisdiction over the entire lake, France and Britain had agreed that, near the northeastern corner of the lake, a narrow strip of land, between 35 and 40 yards in depth, would be demarcated on the Palestinian side of the border with Syria.
Israel insists now, as it always has, that Lake Tiberias is entirely within its sovereignty as it is the inheritor of the Franco-British agreement, which had been superseded by the Syrian-Israeli armistice pact of 1949.
Israel fears that, if it should permit Syria to try to salvage its own plane in the lake, a precedent would be established, under which Syria would, in the future, claim other rights in the lake. On the other hand, Israel reassured Gen. Bull again today that it is willing to turn back to the Syrians both their sunken MIG-17 and the body of their drowned pilot, after these are brought up by Israel.
ISRAEL ADVISED BY U.N. NOT TO SALVAGE ITS STRANDED CUTTER
Meanwhile, Israel’s Coast Guard cutter is still stranded on a sandbar, and Israel is not trying to put it back into service at the request of the United Nations, which fears a flare-up of Syrian-Israeli fighting.
Syria has installed big searchlights near its side of the Tiberias border, lighting the area by night to make sure Israel is not doing any salvage work. There are heavy concentrations of Syrian guns, tanks and infantry on the border near the lake, and Syrian planes are patrolling the air on the Syrian side of the border. The same preparations, of a defensive character, are evident on Israel’s side.
Israel is also on the alert against possible renewal of terrorist raids by members of the El Fatah organization which is directed from Syrian bases but which may attempt to infiltrate into Israel from nearby Jordan or Lebanon. The opinion prevailing in Israel is that the recent Syrian threats of warfare cannot be implemented by Syria by open attacks on Israeli territory, but only by guerrilla methods against which Israel is determined to retaliate as indicated yesterday by Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, following a session of the cabinet.
(In Washington, State Department officials said today that the United States is closely observing developments on the tense Israeli-Syrian frontier, and that the United States Government feels both sides should cooperate with the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization.)