TEL AVIV (Aug. 4)
Units of the Israel Airforce carried out a punitive strike today against El Fatah sabotage bases and staging areas near the town of Salt, 15 miles west of the Jordanian capital of Amman. The bombing went on intermittently for more than three hours and all Israeli planes returned safely to their bases. Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Chaim Bar-Lev reported at a press conference this evening that he was positive that the El Fatah bases were destroyed but that he had no report as to the number of saboteurs who may have been killed. He said the strike was ordered as a result of a sharp increase in terrorist incursions into Israel-held territory during the month of July. He said the Israeli planes did not bomb the village of Salt or nearby Jordanian army installations despite anti-aircraft fire from the latter. He said that no Jordanian aircraft were encountered.
A military spokesman reported that Jordanians opened fire with tanks on Israeli forces near the Allenby Bridge just as the air strikes on the El Fatah bases were ending. Israeli units returned the fire, precipitating a two hour tank and small arms duel after which the Jordanians brought artillery into action. A Jordanian tank was hit and was seen to be afire, the spokesman said. The sabotage bases near Salt contained the new headquarters of El Fatah and arsenals of weapons and high explosives. Gen. Bar-Lev declared that the headquarters was moved there from the former base at Karameh which was severely damaged by an Israeli air and ground attack last March 21.
Gen. Bar-Lev would not say how many Israeli aircraft were involved in the action but said he could not describe it as the biggest strike since the 1967 Six-Day War. He indicated that its purposes were twofold – to destroy the El Fatah terrorist and sabotage potential and to discourage further raids by warning El Fatah members and potential recruits that they could not escape Israeli retaliation. Gen. Bar-Lev disclosed that the planes dropped thousands of pamphlets listing the names of El Fatah leaders and their commando groups caught on Israeli territory and wiped out by Israeli forces. The pamphlets noted that 44 El Fatah leaders and men were killed during July alone and that 1,200 were captured and were now in Israeli prisons. The pamphlets warned that raids against Israel would result in the saboteurs being killed, wounded or captured and sentenced to long prison terms. They exhorted El Fatah members and recruits not to believe the “empty boasts of your commanders which contain nothing but lies.”
Gen. Bar-Lev said the air strike was planned after it was ascertained by intelligence and the interrogation of captured El Fatah members that the main bases and headquarters had been moved to Salt. After the March Karameh action, the incidence of sabotage declined while El Fatah re-organized. But it has since increased sharply. During July there were 98 incidents. Gen. Bar-Lev said. He added that the camps near Salt contained about 400 saboteurs in various stages of training.
(At the United Nations, Israel complained Friday that the Jordanian Government had continued its “systematic violations” of the cease-fire agreement and had been responsible for at least 103 such violations since June 23. In a letter to Secretary-General U Thant, Ambassador Yosef Tekoah also charged that the cease-fire violations were being committed both by regular Jordanian troops and by paramilitary units maintained “overtly” in Jordan with the “cooperation and encouragement” of Jordanian authorities. The Israeli envoy said that since his previous note on Jordanian armed activities, those activities had accelerated. He asked that his letter be circulated as a Security Council document.)