Egyptians Try to Create Bridgehead Across Canal in Sinai

An Egyptian attack across the Suez Canal in company strength on Saturday, followed by two mortar barrages from the west bank of the canal last night and this morning, were regarded here as having more political and propaganda motives than military.

About noon on Saturday, local time, an Egyptian force of about 120 men was found to have crossed the canal near Ras el Eish, about 10 miles south of Port Said, the Mediterranean entrance to the canal. The force attempted to establish a bridgehead behind the Israel cease-fire line in the Sinai Desert, on the east bank of the canal. A sharp clash ensued when the Egyptians opened mortar fire on Israeli positions and the Egyptians were driven back across the canal. They left a quantity of mortars, recoilless guns and radio transmitter equipment. Five Israelis were wounded. Again, on Sunday morning, Egyptian positions on the west bank opened fire on the Israelis. Their guns were quickly silenced by the Israeli artillery.

(Israel filed a protest with the Security Council Saturday against the “serious breach of the cease-fire committed by the armed forces of the United Arab Republic.” The protest did not ask for a Council meeting.)

Israelis speculated that the Egyptians had created the incident to prove to the United Nations General Assembly, on the eve of the vote on measures to deal with the Middle East situation, that the borders were not quiet as Israel claimed, and that it was therefore necessary to have the Israeli forces pulled back to prevent further incidents. The Egyptians were also expected to use the incident to bolster their argument that the old 1956 border was the “natural” demarcation line.

The chief purposes of the incident, however, it was believed here, were domestic. President Nasser was said to be trying to prove to the Egyptian people that his regime, which is coming under mounting criticism at home, is doing its utmost to “liberate” the territories occupied by the Israelis. The incident was also designed to show, as “Revolution Day” nears, that the Egyptian Army was not destroyed but continues as a fighting force.

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