JERUSALEM (Jan. 25)
Israel agreed today to allow Egypt to begin operations to free 15 stranded foreign ships in the Suez Canal after receiving assurances that the program would not prejudice the general agreement between Egypt and Israel barring use of the waterway by either country. The first phase of the operations are to begin Saturday. The ships have been marooned since the June war.
The assurance was given to Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan by Dr. Gen. Odd Bull, chief of the United Nations Middle East cease-fire observation team. Gen. Bull also supplied full details of the Egyptian plans, including the number and type of divers and other specialists and boats the Egyptians plan to use. Gen. Dayan met with Foreign Minister Abba Eban before announcement of Israel’s agreement.
Informed sources here said the extrication would take about a month and a half, starting with the dispatch of divers to the canal’s bottom to determine the condition of two ships the Egyptians sank during the June war to block the waterway. Fourteen of the marooned ships are in Great Bitter Lake near the southern end of the canal and one further north near Ismailia. Skeleton crews have remained aboard ship. The ships will leave via the southern canal entrance. U.N. cease-fire observers are stationed near the spots where the ships were sunk to block the waterway and will watch the clearing operation.