JERUSALEM (Mar. 8)
Israelis, busy preparing for Purim festivities, appeared unperturbed today by the expiration of the seven month-old cease-fire at midnight last night. The fact that there has been no resumption of shooting on the Suez front and all other borders remain quiet, or nearly so, contributed to the air of equanimity. But newspapers seemed to be selling faster and more people paused in the streets to listen to the hourly news bulletins. The rejection of a cease-fire extension by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat yesterday, though he kept the door open for continuing negotiations through UN mediator Dr. Gunnar V. Jarring, diminished the hopes held by many Israelis a week ago that peace prospects were improving. Israelis take the view that the choice between peace or renewed warfare now rests with the Egyptians. But they reason that the latter will not start shooting because they fear another trouncing by the Israelis. Foreign Minister Abba Eban reminded the country at his press conference yesterday that there have now been seven consecutive months without fighting in the Suez Canal zone, the quietest months for Israel since the Six-Day War, if not before. The public seems to be aware that temporary situations have a way of becoming frozen with the passage of time. So Israelis today are not heaping sandbags or blacking out street lamps. They are decking their cities out for Purim which begins Wednesday evening. School children have already gotten into the holiday spirit. Throngs of them went to classes today wearing Purim masks.
If there was the usual quota of Esthers, Mordecais and Hamans there was also evidence of youthful ecumenism in the many Davey Crocket, Apache and Santa Claus masks. Troops manning the Bar Lev line along the Suez Canal have been on the alert for several days. They have resumed wearing helmets and flack jackets and since midnight have been manning their guns. But they appear supremely confident that they can withstand the massed Soviet artillery and missiles on the Egyptian side and destroy them if the war is resumed. Military officials expect the canal front to remain quiet for the time being and are taking precautions against any accidental escalation. Stray shots which landed on the Israeli side of the canal last week were unanswered. Overflights by Egyptian reconnaisance planes are recorded and reported to the United Nations truce supervisors. Anti-aircraft gunners tracked them but are not shooting although the planes are described as “sitting ducks.” Also left unmolested are Egyptian observation balloons which Israeli soldiers say could be downed with bow-and-arrow. What seemed to bother the Israeli troops most were the Egyptian propaganda broadcasts carried across the canal by loudspeaker–not their content, but their bad Hebrew. One irritated Israeli soldier grabbed a bull horn yesterday and corrected the faulty grammar of his Egyptian opposites.