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Israel Cabinet is Gratified with Reports on Battle with Syria

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The Israel Cabinet today heard reports on Friday’s sudden land-and-air battle with Syria during which Israeli flyers shot down six Syrian Soviet-made MIG-21 jet fighters while army units destroyed Syrian gun posts firing artillery from remote positions against Israelis working in tractors in the demilitarized zone on the border.

Not a single Israeli plane was lost in the battle, but two Israelis were wounded by ground fire — one of them fatally — and damages to Israeli border settlements were estimated at millions of pounds. The Cabinet, after hearing today the reports on the battle, voted congratulations to the Israeli border settlers, the air force and the soldiers for their “disciplined and courageous behavior in the face of deadly attacks by Syria.”

The reports were given at the Cabinet meeting by Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, Foreign Minister Abba Eban and Gen. Yitzhak Rabin, Chief of Staff of Israel’s armed forces. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Premier issued the following statement on behalf of the Government:

“It was Israel’s right and duty to protect her legitimate rights against the reoccurring attempts by Syria to move the border and violate Israel’s sovereignty. During the period of the talks in the Israeli-Syrian Mixed Armistice Commission, which had been summoned in extraordinary session by United Nations Secretary-General U Thant, and discontinued by Syria, incursions into our territory became more numerous. Simultaneously, Syria started firing at farmers’ settlements to hamper work in areas where our rights of cultivation have not been disputed.

“This probably was intended to bear out the statements by Syrian propagandists who had said that the ‘popular war’ against Israel must start by firing at the Jewish tractors.

“One can be proud of Israel’s soldiers. But we would forego demonstrations of this superiority. The Syrian rulers should understand that their mistake regarding Israel’s patience is most dangerous to themselves, and they had better desist from trying it to the point where Israel has to act in self defense.”

SYRIA WITHDRAWS COMPLAINT FILED AGAINST ISRAEL WITH U.N.

Meanwhile, Syria announced today it had withdrawn a complaint it had filed with the Israel-Syrian Mixed Armistice Commission following Friday’s fighting on Israel’s border. Syria’s complaint to the ISMAC had been filed Friday night, protesting against Israel’s planes flying allegedly “over Damascus.” No reason was given by Damascus for the withdrawal of the complaint to the United Nations.

Pointing to Syria’s decision to withdraw its complaint today was an address made to a mass rally at Damascus Friday night by Dr. Nurieddin Al-Atassi, president of Syria. He declared that his Government would file no further complaints against Israel with the United Nations Security Council. He told the rally, which had been summoned to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the formation of the Baath (Socialist-militarist) Party that, instead of resorting to the Security Council, “we are determined to retaliate to aggression by destroying bases and sources for this aggression.” The crowd howled approval, interrupting the President frequently with shouts of “we want revenge” and “we want blood.”

On its side, Israel appeared today to be planning no further diplomatic actions, beyond the complaint filed Friday night with the Security Council. (In that complaint, at the United Nations, Israel’s permanent representative, Ambassador Michael S. Comay, informed the Council of Friday’s stiff altercation which, he stated, resulted from “continued acts of aggression and provocation by Syrian armed forces.” The letter called only for circulation of its contents to all 15 members of the Council, but did not request a Council meeting.)

Both Prime Minister Levi Eshkol and Gen. Yitzhak Rabin, chief of staff of Israel’s defense forces, explained in separate press conferences here exactly what had happened Friday. Mr. Eshkol pointed out that Syria has used the hiatus in the extraordinary session of the Israel-Syrian Mixed Armistice Commission, which has been in suspension since February 2, “to try to put into doubt Israel’s sovereignty over its territory” in the demilitarized zones on the frontiers of the two countries.

Mr. Eshkol called on Syria to “honor Israel’s borders and territory, and discontinue infiltration and sabotage activities.” He suggested that both Israel and Syria cultivate their sides of their borders “in peace, even before a peace treaty is achieved.” At the same time, he congratulated Israel’s air force fliers and soldiers for their “gallant stand and efficient following of instructions to the letter.” Gen. Rabin warned the Syrians that Israel’s armed forces have the strength to deal with the Syrians “in any form Israel finds fitting.”

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