JERUSALEM (Jul. 16)
The Suez Canal zone was reported to be quiet today with no incidents reported since midnight (6 PM NYDT) when a cease-fire arranged by Lt. Gen. Odd Bull brought to a halt the worst outbreak of fighting since a cease-fire agreement ended the June fighting between Israelis and Egyptians.
United Nations observers reached the southern canal zone, locale of yesterday’s heavy fighting and were deployed today. Israeli sources, however, were skeptical of their effectiveness since, they said, the Egyptians were hindering establishment of communications between the observers on the east and west banks of the canal. The Egyptians were also said to be making difficulties over acceptance of the canal line as the cease-fire line putting the Israelis right on the bank of the canal.
From the east bank of the canal today, it was possible to see the additional troops and the tanks the Egyptians were moving up to the line. The greatest concentration was near Ismailia. Egyptian troops could also be seen busy repairing and strengthening the defensive positions which had been smashed in Saturday’s barrages.
Gen. Moshe Dayan, the Minister of Defense, gave a detailed report today to the Israel Cabinet on the weekend flare-up of fighting in the Suez Canal area and on the presence of Soviet warships in Egyptian ports.
The presence of the Soviet men-of-war in Port Said, at the northern end of the canal, according to one view put forward at the meeting, was the reason why the Egyptian attacks had shifted from the north end in the vicinity of Ras-el-Eish to the southern end of the waterway. It was suggested that hostilities almost under their bows would have been a source of embarrassment to the Soviet warships.
It was believed here that the instructions given to the Soviet fleet commanders did not include direct intervention in any Egyptian-Israeli fighting.
The presence of the Soviet warships, however, continued to represent an important factor in the situation. While an immediate effect of their presence could be to give the Egyptians the assurance that the Soviet Union was firmly behind them, and thus to encourage them to prolong hostilities, there was concern that the stay of the Red Fleet vessels in Egyptian ports could be the first step towards establishment of permanent Soviet military bases in the Mediterranean.
SIX EGYPTIAN PLANES SHOT DOWN IN DAY OF FIGHTING
Israeli sources said that five MIG jet fighters and one Sukhoi-7 fighter-bomber were shot down in air battles over the southern end of the canal yesterday. They also estimated that the Egyptians suffered 80 killed and scores wounded, most of them crews of the guns on the west bank of the canal which Israeli planes bombed and strafed to silence.
Israel admitted the loss of one plane and Ambassador Gideon Rafael told Secretary-General U Thant at the United Nations that seven Israeli soldiers had been killed in yesterday’s fighting, 22 wounded and two were missing. Mr. Rafael suggested to the Secretary-General that Gen. Bull, then in Cairo, be the medium for establishing a new cease-fire. Mr. Rafael noted in a letter to the president of the Security Council that Israel favored the “immediate, complete and mutual cessation of all firing in this sector.”
One reason advanced for the intensity of yesterday’s fighting and for its shift from the north end of the canal to the lower extremity was the fact that Israel vessels, plying out of Port Tewfik, have been sailing on the Suez Canal and the Israeli flag was flying over waters the Egyptians had denied to Israel since 1948. For both Israel and Egypt, the presence of the blue-white flag on the Suez Canal was more than a matter of prestige.
The Egyptian action Saturday began about 7 AM at the southern tip of the Suez Canal with machine gun fire and later artillery shelling in the Port Tewfik area. Israel replied with gunfire and then sent planes into action to silence the Egyptian guns. A half hour later, the Egyptians opened fire from positions in the northern area near Kabrit and the Firdan bridge, using artillery and tank guns. One Israeli plane was damaged and the pilot parachuted. He was brought back to base.
A few minutes later, four MIG jets and two Israeli Mirage jets tangled in a clash in which the first of the day’s MIG jets went down. Two hours later, two flights of four MIGs attacked Israeli forces north and south of Tewfik and, at the same time, another air clash took place in the Ismailia area, when the other two MIGs were downed.
The calm that followed lasted about three hours. The Egyptians then attacked near the Firdan bridge and Port Tewfik with machine guns and anti-tank guns, the Israelis returning the fire.
The shelling in the Ibraham-Tewfik area was so intense, Israeli officials said, that Israeli units could not evacuate some 30 casualties. After Israeli planes silenced the Egyptian guns in the area, the Israeli wounded and dead were brought back to base. Defense Minister Dayan said the fighting on the canal Saturday reached such a peak that it was “practically equivalent to war.”
JORDANIANS ACCUSED OF THREE VIOLATIONS OF CEASE-FIRE IN DAY
For the first time since the cease-fire took effect, trouble was reported from the Jordanians. An Israeli spokesman said that Jordanian forces opened fire three times, twice before noon, Saturday, and again in the afternoon, north of the Damiya bridge across the Jordan River. Most of the shooting was with rifles and machine guns, but the Jordanians also fired some anti-tank shells. Israeli officials, who said there have been no casualties. did not indicate whether the fire had been returned.