TEL AVIV (Mar. 12)
Acting Prime Minister Yigal Allon warned Egypt yesterday to end its “aggression” along the Suez Canal or Israel would “take measures of the kind we have already employed and some hitherto unused.” Mr. Allon spoke in a radio interview following a third day of fierce artillery, tank, mortar and small arms exchanges across the waterway in which each side claimed to have inflicted heavy casualties and damages on the other. A military spokesman announced that one Israeli soldier was fatally wounded and three others slightly injured in the barrage. He said Israeli return fire had scored direct hits on three Egyptian ships at Port Ibrahim on the Gulf of Suez, capsizing one of them, and that four Egyptian tanks were smashed, 10 anti-tank guns hit and several munitions dumps blown up.
United Nations cease-fire observers confirmed Israel’s charge that yesterday’s shelling, like that of Saturday and Sunday, was begun by Egypt. Israeli sources said the Egyptians three times ignored a cease-fire call by the UN observers. Israel heeded the calls but was forced to reopen fire when the Egyptians continued shooting.
According to Israeli officials, the three Egyptian artillery attacks in the last four days appeared to have been intended to soften Israeli fortifications along the Suez Canal’s east bank and to create the impression that the Mideast was on the verge of a new all-out war. Mr. Allon said last night that if the Egyptians “have decided to disrupt our fortification work they missed their chance because we are well fortified.” He said efforts to dislodge Israeli forces from the canal would be fruitless and warned that Israeli artillery could strike a variety of vital targets in Egypt in retaliation for any Egyptian blow. Mr. Allon also remarked that he did not consider Israel’s fortification of its Suez Canal positions to be a violation of the cease-fire agreement and noted that the Egyptians have fortified and still are strengthening their positions on the canal’s west bank.
(The semi-official Cairo newspaper Al Ahram said today that Egyptian forces were trying to break up a possible Israeli invasion attempt.. According to the paper, Israel was concentrating troops and armor near Mitla Pass, about 30 miles east of Port Suez, for a possible attack on Egypt. Cairo spokesmen claimed that Egyptian gunners killed “scores” of Israeli soldiers yesterday and destroyed five Israeli helicopters, 22 tanks, numerous armored vehicles, machinegun nests and mortar batteries. Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministers of the 13-nation Arab League concluded a three-day Cairo meeting with an announcement that they would strengthen their military forces along all fronts against Israel.)
Israeli officials said Egyptian casualties were “heavy” and claimed the Egyptian high command was trying to conceal that fact from the public. They said yesterday’s artillery duel was preceded by an Egyptian machinegun attack on Israeli sappers dismantling mines planted by Egyptian commandos near the Small Bitter Lake. Israeli units returned the fire and suddenly Egyptian big guns were brought into action all along the canal. The exchange lasted three and one-half hours.