JERUSALEM (Jan. 3)
Well-informed sources said here tonight that Egypt may seek to use the situation of the 15 stranded ships in the Suez Canal as a test case to reassert its sovereignty over the waterway, posing the possibility of a new delay in releasing the vessels. They were stranded at the lower end of the canal when Egypt blocked the waterway during the June war.
Reports last week indicated that Egypt was ready to open the southern end to allow the 15 ships, of a variety of national flags, to leave. Gunnar Jarring, the special United Nations peace emissary, who has visited both Cairo and Jerusalem, was understood to have discussed the problem with both Egyptian and Israeli officials.
The sources said that Egypt had no intention of asking Israel for agreement on extrication of the ships. Israel has made it clear that the agreement on non-shipping by both Egypt and Israel on the waterway applies to stranded ships, as well. Israel occupies the east bank of the canal.
Any exception to that agreement, Israel has made it clear, must be negotiated by both sides through the UN cease-fire machinery, through which the agreement was arranged. The Egyptian press, including the semi-official Al Ahram, has said that Egypt does not need Israel’s permission to remove the barriers but so far, no change in the Suez Canal status quo has taken place. Egypt has not applied to the UN cease-fire officials to obtain Israel’s agreement.
Ambassador Jarring arrived in Israel today, a day earlier than scheduled, and conferred tonight with Foreign Minister Abba Eban. No details on the conversation were released, except that the talk had been a continuation of general exchange of views. Jarring was to return tomorrow to his headquarters on Cyprus and he may visit some Arab capitals in the next few days.