JERUSALEM (Feb. 1)
The question of extricating 15 ships stranded in the southern end of the Suez Canal apparently reached an impasse today. No new proposals were forthcoming from Egypt while Israel stood firm on her refusal to permit the Egyptians to start clearing operations anywhere but in the southern sector of the canal.
The United Nations special representative to the Middle East, Ambassador Gunnar Jarring, conferred for 90 minutes today with Israel’s Foreign Minister, Abba Eban but the subject of the stranded ships was barely touched on, it was learned. It was understood that Mr. Eban reiterated Israel’s position that only the southern portion of the canal can be cleared. It was Egypt’s attempt to send survey boats into the northern section Tuesday that touched off a two hour exchange of fire between Israeli and Egyptian forces across the Suez Canal. Ambassador Jarring returns to his Cyprus headquarters tomorrow and is scheduled to go to Egypt again next week.
In Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol said it was Israel that took the initiative for clearing the southern end of the Suez Canal in order to free the stranded merchant ships. He said that he had suggested to Ambassador Jarring that the ships leave via the canal’s southern exit when the latter had asked him for some kind of a “gesture” by Israel on the canal question. His disclosure came at a question-and-answer session at Bar Ilan University.
The Prime Minister said that it was clear to Ambassador Jarring and all others concerned that Israel was not prepared to give in on the canal question and that she had agreed only to the opening of the southern end. “What happened along Suez Tuesday (the artillery exchange between Israeli and Egyptian forces) proves that we mean business,” he said. “We have heard that Egypt wants to clear the entire canal. I shall not say what we think. But we are on the banks of Suez and the borderline lies in the middle of the canal.” Israel has insisted all along that the future of the Suez Canal cannot be decided unilaterally by Egypt and that if the canal is re-opened it must be to the shipping of all nations, including Israel. Egypt’s attempt to begin clearance work in the northern end of the canal, which led to Tuesday’s clash, was, Israel insists, a violation of last June’s cease-fire agreement.
(In New York yesterday, Yigal Allon. the Minister of Labor, reiterated Israel’s readiness to separate the question of the reopening of the Suez Canal for international navigation from the general Arab-Israeli peace settlement negotiations. He stressed, however, that Israel would insist that her ships enjoy equal rights with the ships of other nations in navigation of the waterway.
(“It must be understood,” he declared, “that in the future, the canal will be open to ships of all nations, or it will be closed to all. There is no reason why Egypt should insist on keeping the canal closed.”)