JERUSALEM (Jan. 24)
Members of Israel’s Cabinet were considering behind closed doors today whether or not to take steps to prevent Egypt from clearing the southern end of the Suez Canal in order to free 15 merchant ships stranded there since last June.
This was the subject of consultations between the Prime Minister’s Office, the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Defense following notification from Lt. Gen. Odd Bull that Egypt intends to start clearing operations next Saturday. Gen. Bull is the chief of the U.N. cease fire observers corp in the Middle East.
His letter, submitted to the Israel Government yesterday, gave no details of the Egyptian plans nor did it mention the provisions of the Israel-Egyptian cause fire agreement under which neither side is permitted to use or work in the Suez Canal without the approval of the other. Israel considers this provision to be the basis for any contact with Egypt on the matter. The latter’s failure to consult Israel or to provide details of the manpower and equipment to be used in clearing the canal is considered by Israel to be a dangerous precedent for use of the canal. The Cabinet will decide whether the danger is sufficient to prevent Egypt from going ahead with the operation or whether to permit it and not risk angering world opinion.
Gen. Bull met today with Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Chaim Bar-Lev on the question of the stranded ships. Gen. Dayan said Israel had to have a detailed breakdown of the number of men and the equipment the Egyptians plan to use. Egypt’s reply is required before Saturday when they intend to commence clearing the canal.