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State Department, Thant Voice Concern on Suez Situation; Near State of War Seen

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The State Department today associated the United States Government with a warning by United Nations Secretary General U Thant to the Security Council released several hours earlier that the cease-fire has virtually broken down in the Suez Canal zone and that an active state of war almost exists there.

The U.S. statement urged Israel and the Arabs to end violations of the cease-fire and to “avoid all actions which aggravate the tense situation” in the Middle East. The U.S. warned that mounting violence in the Mideast and a breakdown of the cease-fire would “delay and hinder” efforts by the Big Four to find a peaceful settlement. The statement, released by State Department spokesman Robert J. McCloskey, said the U.S. wanted to “associate ourselves with the spirit of concern” expressed by the Secretary-General.

Mr. Thant said in his message to the Security Council that he felt “it necessary to employ the unusual means of a special report to call most urgently to the attention of members of the Council the prevailing situation in the Suez Canal section which, in my view, is grave.” He did not, however, explicitly ask for a meeting of the Security Council which he is empowered to do.

Mr. Thant said that “as of the date of this report there have been major breaches of the ceasefire daily for 12 successive days. In numerous instances the exchanges of fire have taken place along most of the length of the canal. The weapons employed range from small arms to heavy mortars, tank fire and heavy artillery. The United Nations military observers, who are now operating under great danger and difficulty, in each instance exert every effort to bring a quick end to the firing, with varying degrees of success, but no later than the following day, firing erupts again. In the circumstances,” Mr. Thant said, “it seems to me that the only conclusion to be drawn is that the Security Council cease-fire has become almost totally ineffective in the Suez Canal sector and that a virtual state of active war now exists there, as indicated by the observers’ reports.”

(A report from Tel Aviv today said that a UN truce observer identified as a Capt. Young of the Irish Army, was wounded when a UN jeep struck a mine north of Qantara on the east bank of the Suez Canal. Another UN jeep was damaged by a road mine a short while later. The mines were presumably laid by Egyptian commandos who raided the Israeli side of the canal April 19 and 21.

The U.S. statement said, “We call urgently on those responsible for the firing and other violations of the cease-fire in the Suez Canal area to take effective measures to ensure the maintenance of the cease-fire.” Mr. McCloskey made it clear that the statement applied to all border violations although its wording referred only to the Suez Canal zone. He said. “These violations of the ceasefire are particularly regrettable at a time when we and other permanent members of the Security Council are engaged in efforts to help Ambassador Gunnar V. Jarring promote a peaceful settlement.”

The U.S. statement was issued shortly after Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Joseph Sisco, met with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin to discuss the Middle East crisis. The Sisco-Dobrynin meeting was reportedly intended to help reconcile American and Soviet positions and to seek progress on a mutually agreed formula for a Big Four peace plan. Mr. Sisco was scheduled to meet later today with Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin.

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