TEL AVIV (Mar. 21)
Israeli Army units, spear-headed by helicopter-borne paratroops and supported by air force units invaded Jordan today to carry out a massive but limited military operation with the objective of destroying the bases used by El Fatah and other Arab terrorist gangs for raids and sabotage incursions against Israel. By three o’clock this afternoon, twelve hours after the Israeli troops marched, the first units returned to their bases, their objectives largely achieved. Other Israeli units were expected to return to Israel-held territory in the next few hours.
According to the latest reports, an estimated 150 El Fatah terrorists were killed as well as a large number of Jordanian soldiers. El Fatah bases in central and southern Jordan were destroyed along with their arsenals of weapons and high explosives. At least 15 Jordanian tanks were destroyed and two were captured intact. The operation, referred to by military spokesmen as a “skirmish” rather than a war, cost Israel 17 soldiers killed and 60 wounded, most of them slightly. One Israeli Jet plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed in Israel-held territory after its pilot bailed out. Six Israeli armored vehicles were hit.
Israeli forces crossed into Jordan at two points, beginning at 3 o’clock this morning, local time. Carameh village in the central sector, the main staging base for El Fatah raids, and its adjacent refugee camp were seized by paratroops landed from helicopters who immediately began to weed out El Fatah members from among the population. At the same time, infantry and armored units crossed into Jordan over the Allenby Bridge, near Jericho, and the Damiyah Bridge, several miles to the North, in a pincer movement intended to cut off the El Fatah from escape eastward into Jordan and from support by Jordanian regulars.
A parallel assault was launched north and south of the Dead Sea where Israeli units speedily captured the Jordanian villages of Dahal, Sissi, Asafel, Wad! Hinzir and Saffi which had served as spring boards for El Fatah raids into southern Israel. Police stations in the villages were demolished.
Israeli troops operated under strict orders not to harm the civilian population, women of children. Leaflets were distributed advising civilians to keep calm, remain indoors and place any arms in their possession in the street.
OPERATION UNDERTAKEN TO AVERT NEW WAVE OF TERRORIST ACTS, ESHKOL TELLS KNESSET
Prime Minister Eshkol addressed the Knesset (Parliament) early this afternoon following a helicopter visit to the fighting from along the East bank of the Jordan. He declared that the operation had been ordered to forestall new, more serious outbreaks of terror launched from Jordanian territory. He cited 37 cases of sabotage within a single month, climaxed by Monday’s mining of a school bus loaded with children on a Negev road. Once again, the Prime Minister said, Israel was forced to take arms to defend itself. He announced the casualties and extended condolences to the families of the fallen men.
Maj. Gen. Chaim Bar-Lev, the Chief of Staff, reported tonight to a special Cabinet meeting on the day’s operations and Foreign Minister Abba S. Eban briefed his colleagues on the political and international aspects of the situation. The Cabinet sent special greetings and wishes for his speedy recovery to Defense Minister Moshe Dayan. Gen. Dayan, hospitalized since suffering painful injuries in a cave-in at an archaeological site near here yesterday, kept in touch with the battle front via a direct telephone line to his room in the Tel Hashomer Hospital.
Observers here predicted that Jordan would hail the pre-arranged Israeli withdrawal as a “victory.” They pointed out however, that Israeli armored units and planes, after stifling Jordanian resistance, moved about almost at will in the area of operations. Large clouds of black smoke viewed from a height overlooking the Allenby Bridge, testified to the destruction of El Fatah arms and munitions stores.
The large concentration of El Fatah members was met at Carameh where they were holed up in tunnels in a tactic used by the Viet Cong. Smoke bombs routed them out. One injured terrorist was found bound and gagged so that his cries would not reveal the El Fatah hiding place. Large quantities of mines, machine guns, submachine guns and assault rifles were found in the village.