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Thant Tells Security Council He May Have to Withdraw UN Observers at Suez Canal

Secretary-General U Thant warned in a special report to the United Nations Security Council released today that he may have to withdraw the 96 UN cease-fire observers from the Suez Canal zone because “open warfare has been resumed” along the Suez Canal. Mr. Thant said that the UN observers “cannot be expected to serve as what amounts to defenseless targets in a shooting gallery.”

He reported that as of July 5, the last day for which he had a formal report, firing across the Suez Canal had gone on for 86 consecutive days. He said that during the month of June there were 21 incidents of firing by Egyptian forces and five by Israeli forces on UN personnel or installations.

He said the shooting “further demonstrates the degree of disregard which now prevails for the Security Council cease-fire in the canal sector.” He added, “It is certainly true to say that since June, 1967, the level of violence in the Middle East has never been higher than it is at present.”

Mr. Thant said that he felt compelled to warn the Council that if the observers continue to be fired on, he would have “no choice” but to consider their future disposition, including possible withdrawal, after consultations with the governments providing the observers. He said that UN observers, their posts, shelter and equipment had been targets.

“The UN experience with the cease-fire in the (Suez) sector underscores the virtual impossibility of insuring effective observance of a cease-fire for a prolonged and indefinite period in a situation in which two hostile forces constantly confront each other across a narrow no-man’s land, in this case the Canal, with one of the parties being in military occupation of territory belonging” to the other and with no early prospects of implementation of the Security Council’s Nov. 22, 1967 resolution, Mr. Thant said.

Alluding to the Israel-Jordan cease-fire line, where there are no UN observers, the Secretary-General declared that information he had received pointed to “a similar worsening of the situation in that sector as well.”

He added, “It is certainly true to say that since June, 1967 the level of violence in the Mideast” has never been greater than at present. “In fact, never in the history of UN experience with peacekeeping has there been such a complete and sustained disregard, through the massive use of many types of conventional weapons, and also by less conventional weapons, for a cease-fire called by the Security Council, and agreed to by the parties.” He noted that “I, as Secretary-General, have been and am unable to effect any noticeable improvement in it.”

He said that if the situation continued, it could “render vain efforts for a peaceful settlement and it could even be the overture to more general and intensive hostilities” in the Middle East.

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