JERUSALEM (Sep. 4)
After almost five weeks of calm in the Suez Canal area, where Israel holds the east bank of the waterway while Egypt retains the west shore, serious fighting broke out in the region today. Before the exchanges between the two sides were over, one Israeli soldier was killed and another was wounded, the Egyptians hit an Israeli helicopter attempting to pick up wounded, and the Israelis sank an Egyptian torpedo boat.
The shooting started this morning when the Egyptians broke out with heavy artillery fire against Israeli vessels sailing the canal near the eastern shore. Israel fired back from batteries in the vicinity of Port Tewfiq. That exchange lasted an hour and a half.
This afternoon, the Egyptians opened fire against the Israelis stationed in the Port Tewfiq area Israel fired back. The United Nations cease-fire observers arranged a halt to the firing, but Egypt broke that agreement within five minutes. It was here that one Israeli lost his life, and another was wounded.
The Egyptians then started shelling Israeli forces in the Sinai, about six and a half miles from Port Tewfiq, and continued to fire in spite of two separate cease-fire arrangements reached by the United Nations military observers.
All along the area on and near the canal, the Egyptians kept up steady streams of fire with artillery and mortar. Israel remained in possession of Port Tewfiq. The Israeli helicopter had been hit during one of these engagements. The Egyptian torpedo boat had been sunk in the canal.
The situation along the Suez Canal has been relatively quiet since July 27, when the United Nations supervisor of cease-fire operations, Lt. Gen. Odd Bull, got both sides to agree to keep their shipping off the canal. Israel had insisted right along that a policy of “either or neither” be implemented, under which both sides would be allowed to use the canal or neither side.
After the July agreement had expired last week, Gen. Bull obtained agreement to continue indefinitely the practice under which neither side would use the canal for its shipping. However, a few days ago, Gen. Bull requested Israel to allow Egypt to run some of its ships through the southern half of the canal along the west bank held by Egypt. Israel’s Defense Minister, Gen. Moshe Dayan, demanded reciprocity, saying Israel would also use that section of the canal if Egypt did.
This morning, when the Egyptian batteries opened fire on Israeli vessels sailing that portion of the canal’s east bank, the Egyptians were evidently trying to scare off the Israeli ships. Israel considers the question of reciprocity important because it may have an effect on the future of navigation in the Suez Canal.