UNITED NATIONS, N.Y. (Feb. 15)
The bombing of a civilian metal plant in Egypt by Israeli jets with a heavy loss of life last Thursday has stirred new efforts to defuse the worsening Middle East crisis. Israel called the bombing a “regrettable error” and stressed that its policy was to strike only at military targets in response to Egypt’s declared war of attrition. In Cairo mobs shouted in the streets for “revenge in blood.” United Nations Secretary General U Thant is expected to confer tomorrow with Lt. Gen. Odd Bull, chief of the UN cease-fire observers corps in the Mideast. Gen. Bull was called to UN headquarters for “urgent consultations” in view of what he described as “a virtually complete breakdown of the cease-fire” in the Suez Canal zone. Mr. Thant conferred separately Friday with United States UN Ambassador Charles Yost and the Soviet Ambassador Jakob Malik on the Mideast situation.
Acting Secretary of State Elliot L. Richardson summoned Israel’s Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin to the State Department Friday to convey the U.S. Government’s sharp protest against the Israeli air raid. Ambassador Rabin said after bis meeting with Mr. Richardson that his talk covered the bombing raid and other aspects of the Middle East situation. He reiterated Israel’s position that it would observe the cease-fire provided the Arabs agreed to do likewise. American proposals that the Four Powers undertake immediate efforts to restore the cease-fire elicited no immediate response from the UN representatives of the Soviet Union, Britain and France at last week’s Big Four meeting, the 26th that the Big Powers have held on the Mideast since last April. They said merely that they would inform their governments. American officials expressed “disappointment” over the lack of a more positive reaction.
In Washington there was speculation this weekend that the bombing would delay President Richard M. Nixon’s decision on Israel’s request for more Phantom jets and other American military aid. State Department spokesman Carl Bartch refused comment. Mr. Nixon said at his last press conference Jan. 30 that he would announce his decision on Israel’s arms request within 30 days. Reports from Jerusalem today said that Israel expects the U.S. to agree to deliver more Phantom and Sky hawk jets despite the bombing raid. The sources said Israeli Government officials dismissed the notion that the raid would cause any delay. They believed that the bombing of the Egyptian factory was a passing incident that would have no long term affect on American policy in the Mideast. Pope Paul VI meanwhile has sent condolences to the Egyptian Government over the death of 70 civilian workers in the Israeli raid. Archbishop Agostino Casaroli, Vatican Secretary of the Church Public Affairs Council, summoned the Egyptian Ambassador Abdel Halim Makhyoum to inform him of the Pope’s sorrow over the bloodshed.
ISRAEL CONDEMNED BY WORLD PRESS; SOME ACCEPT ISRAEL’S VIEW THAT IT WAS HONEST MISTAKE
(The world press universally condemned the bombing of the Egyptian metal plant which cost that country its heaviest civilian casualties since the June, 1967 Six-Day War. Some newspapers however accepted Israel’s contention that it was an honest mistake. Others expressed doubts that it wasn’t deliberate. The New York Times, in an editorial Saturday, called it an “inexcusable perversion of Israel’s indisputable right to respond to President Nasser’s ‘war of attrition.’” The paper said that “Although Israeli authorities blame a ‘technical error.’ some such tragic incident was an inevitable consequence of Israel’s rash policy of attacking military targets close to the crowded Egyptian capital. These attacks are too hazardous to continue.”)
(In London Friday, British Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart issued a statement deploring the air raid. “Events of this kind make it all the more necessary to reduce the scale of fighting” in the Mideast, he said. It was “especially regrettable,” he said, that “as so often in the past, the use of violence has brought in its train losses of civilian lives.” Mr. Stewart said the British Government was giving “urgent consideration” to a U.S. proposal that the Big Four powers issue a joint appeal for restoration of the cease fire.)
(The Sunday Observer of London said the heavy loss of civilian lives from the Israeli raid, whether intended or not, marked a serious stage in the escalation of Mideast warfare. The paper said it would “impose severe pressures on Nasser to retaliate in kind, even at suicidal cost.” Rome newspapers today were inclined to accept Israel’s acknowledgment of an error in the bombing, except for the Communist press. Most newspapers referred to Israel’s efforts in the past to avoid hitting civilian centers. But the news agency Ansa carried a dispatch from its Cairo correspondent noting that the metal works was bombed with such precision as to cast doubts on Israel’s assertion that it was a mistake.)
Most newspapers took the position that Israel’s warning to Egypt that there were at least three live bombs in the metal plant wreckage timed to go off within 24 hours after the raid was proof of the genuineness of Israel’s claim that the plant was hit by accident. The warning, regarded as unprecedented in warfare, was issued by Defense Minister Moshe Dayan within hours after the raid. He said the information was gleaned from returning pilots and asked the International Red Cross and the UN cease-fire observers corps to advise Egyptian authorities to search out the bombs and defuse them to avoid further loss of life.