LONDON (Dec. 30)
Five gunboats speeding across the Mediterranean in the direction of Israel were reported today to be “playing tag” with Soviet ships trying to shadow them. The Royal Air Force has also appeared on the scene.
The flotilla was reported by one observer to have separated, but all five of the boats were reportedly sighted off Crete yesterday with about 600 miles to go before reaching Israel. They were said to be encountering strong winds and heavy rain which made only brief observation of them possible.
A Daily Express correspondent reported from Malta that he flew within 300 feet of two of the gunboats yesterday but the other three were nowhere to be seen. He said two Soviet ships that looked like tankers maneuvered close to the gunboats’ course but were soon left behind by the small craft that were making their top speed of 40 knots. The correspondent said that two RAF Canberras dived down to within 1,200 feet of the Russian ships and also crisscrossed the two gunboats. According to the correspondent, there was no sign of any Israeli naval escort. The gunboats were reported to have made rendezvous with Israeli naval units between Sicily and Sardinia Sunday and to have refueled from an Israeli tanker.
Maritime sources said the gunboats were moving steadily toward Israel keeping well north of the Egyptian shoreline. They were expected to pass between Crete and Rhodes before making the open sea run to Israel where they were expected to arrive late tomorrow or Thursday.