JERUSALEM (Feb. 16)
The fourth meeting of the extraordinary session of the Israeli-Syrian Mixed Armistice Commission, postponed last Thursday for a week, was postponed again indefinitely today by Lt. Gen. Odd Bull, Chief of Staff of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization.
The session, arranged at the initiative of U.N. Secretary-General U Thant last month when border tensions reached a dangerous peak, was limited to one item–the question of cultivation rights in the demilitarized zones on the border of the two countries. It was indicated that Gen. Bull decided to call off the meeting today after the Syrians turned down his formal request that they adhere to the official agenda. The third session, on February 2, was halted by Gen. Bull after an hour when the Syrian delegates insisted on bringing up other issues.
Moshe Sasson, head of the Israeli delegation to the talks, was informed of Gen. Bull’s decision at Tiberias where he was waiting early this morning to rejoin the negotiators at the temporary camp at Mahanayim on the Israeli side of the border. Gen. Bull himself apparently had been informed of Syria’s refusal to stick to the agreed-on agenda only a few minutes earlier.
The first Israeli comment on the development came from Foreign Minister Abba Eban at Lydda Airport where he was departing for Britain. He said that Gen. Bull’s decision was easily understandable “after the Syrians refused to adhere to the agenda. ” He reiterated Israel’s stand of “continued readiness to meet with the Syrians within the framework” of that agenda.
Political sources here interpreted the fact that no date had been set for renewal of the MAC talks as indicating that Gen. Bull saw no chance for the time being of getting Syrian agreement on the agenda issue. They suggested that the Syrian stand might stem from some unrest in the present ruling junta in Syria.
GEN. BULL PRAISED FOR RESISTING SYRIAN PRESSURE
The sources praised Gen. Bull’s steadfast stand in the face of Syrian pressure. It had been feared here in recent days that Gen. Bull might yield, if only partially, to Syria’s demands for a wider discussion at the meetings. Gen. Bull apparently decided from the agenda, that it would be better to postpone the meeting indefinitely than to risk an open breakup which would probably have resulted in greater border tension.
Gen. Bull’s action came as a surprise, however. Late last night, prior to the departure of the Israeli delegation for Tiberias, a top-level consultation was held in the presence of Premier Levi Eshkol. Those present included Gen. Yitzhak Rabin, the Israel chief of staff; Jacob Herzog, director-general of the Premier’s office, and the delegation members. Israeli sources said they understood Gen. Bull’s reasons but expressed the hope that the postponement would not be used by the Syrians for new attacks on the border.
Israeli officials reported today that 10 Syrian soldiers had forcibly prevented United Nations observers from investigating a border incident yesterday.
The incident occurred Tuesday when Syrian troops fired at an Israel patrol which sought to remove Syrian farmers from the demilitarized zone near the Dan Settlement. The Syrian soldiers barred the investigation by pointing guns at the U.N. observers.