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15 Israelis Killed, 35 Wounded in Fierce Artillery Duel Along Suez Canal

Fifteen Israeli soldiers were killed and 35 were wounded in an artillery duel with Egyptian forces that raged intermittently for eight hours yesterday along the entire 100-mile length of the Suez Canal. At the height of the barrage at least two and possibly three Egyptian commando units crossed the Suez Canal into Sinai to plant mines and ambush Israeli vehicles, a military spokesman said. One unit penetrated a mile into Israel-held territory. Two of the Israeli fatalities occurred as a result of an ambush.

Two Israeli soldiers were killed near the Lebanese border last night in a bazooka attack by a band of saboteurs who escaped into Lebanon. Another soldier was killed Friday night in a Jordanian artillery attack on Israeli positions near Ashdot Yaacov in the Beisan Valley which wounded five of his comrades. An Israeli soldier died today of injuries he suffered when an Army halftrack struck a mine near Shaar Hagolan in the northern Beisan Valley yesterday.

Israel’s Defense Minister, Gen. Moshe Dayan, visited officers and troops along the Suez Canal today. Yesterday’s clash, the heaviest in the Suez sector since Sept. 8, was started by the Egyptians without provocation, Israeli sources said. Cairo radio claimed today that Israeli forces started the battle with a ground-to-ground missile attack on Port Tewfik, a suburb of Port Suez at the southern end of the Suez Canal. Israeli artillery set fire to the oil refineries and tank farms at Port Suez which were still blazing fiercely this morning. The refineries were deliberately spared by Israeli gunners in the Sept. 8 engagement, Egyptian sources claimed that houses were also hit in Port Suez and Port Tewfik and at Ismailiya at the canal’s mid-point. They said five Egyptian soldiers were killed and 16 soldiers and civilians were wounded.

Israeli military authorities said today that they were convinced that the artillery attack was well planned and coordinated under the direction of Soviet military advisers who may have guided Egyptian artillery men during the action. They said the attack was probably intended to boost the sagging morale of Egyptian troops. But, they added, it may also have been a test to determine whether Egyptian troops could successfully invade the Sinai while Israeli forces were kept busy repelling an artillery attack. The Egyptian artillery barrage itself was less heavy than that of Sept. 8 but the commando probes under artillery cover were new.

One commando group crossed the canal north of Port Tewfik and ambushed two Israeli military vehicles on the strategic Mitleh road, killing two Israelis. The Egyptians fled under return fire and re-crossed the canal as Egyptian artillery opened up again to cover their retreat. Israeli sources said this occurred several hours after a cease-fire arranged by United Nations observers was supposed to have gone into effect. Another commando group crossed the canal near Kantara and laid mines which later damaged a water tank truck but caused no casualties. Additional mines found in the area were dismantled. Israeli sources said there was evidence that a third commando raid might have been attempted.

The Egyptian attack caught Israeli troops completely by surprise and the first salvoes accounted for most of the casualties, a military spokesman reported. He said the guns began to roar simultaneously all along the canal with no advance warning. The attack began at 4:45 p.m. local time and ended about an hour later in a cease-fire. But Egyptian small arms fire was later directed at Israeli forces on the canal’s East Bank opposite Port Tewfik. A new cease-fire was arranged for 11:30 p.m. but Egyptian forces continued their shelling and Israeli guns replied. The all-quiet was reported at 1:00 a.m. local time today.

A military spokesman said that Friday’s artillery duel in the Beisan area was started by the Jordanians, Israeli return fire hit Jordanian positions. An Israeli soldier was injured Saturday when an Army halftrack struck a mine near Shaar Hagolan in the northern Beisan area. Three mines were discovered nearby and dismantled.

Arab saboteurs made one of their deepest penetrations of Israeli territory Friday when they shelled the Kadouri Agricultural School on the Afuleh-Tiberias road in lower Galilee with bazookas. They also planted mines and high explosives near one of the school buildings. One shell damaged a residence but its occupants, a mother and a four-month-old child, escaped unhurt, Israeli border police dismantled the mines. The bazooka shells used in the attack were of American-made 83mm. type.

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