JERUSALEM (Nov. 28)
The assassination of Wasfi el Tai, Premier and Defense Minister of Jordan outside of his Cairo hotel this morning, apparently by Palestinians, was viewed by observers here as a severe blow to Arab unity and attempts to coordinate military activity against Israel, especially on the eastern front. It was also viewed in some circles here as a serious set-back to plans King Hussein is believed to have had for reaching a peaceful settlement with Israel. There was no official Israeli government comment on the assassination nor any word from Amman where Hussein called his Cabinet into emergency session.
El Fatah, the leading Palestinian guerrilla organization, issued a statement today praising the assassins, “We think Tal’s death was the natural end of a man whose hands are stained with the blood of the Palestinian people,” El Fatah said. Tal was regarded as the author of Jordan’s get-tough policy against Palestinian guerrillas which resulted in the virtual elimination of terrorist strongholds in Jordan this year and a marked subsidence of terrorist activities against Israel from Jordanian soil.
Tal was in Cairo at the head of Jordan’s delegation to the Arab States’ Defense Council, a meeting attended by the foreign and defense ministers and chiefs of staff of the Arab states. He was gunned down outside the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Cairo despite the presence of 15 Jordanian security men in his party. His assailants were reportedly seized by Egyptian police. Despite the fact that they are Palestinians, it is likely that Jordan will hold Egypt, the host country, responsible for its Premier’s death, observers here said. Another Jordanian Premier, Haza el Majali, was murdered several years ago by Egyptian agents during a period of tension between Jordan and Egypt.
Commentators here described Tal as a unique political figure in Jordan and said it would be difficult to replace him. He was of Bedouin origin and thus represented the component of Jordan’s population most loyal to Hussein and the backbone of his armed forces. During a previous tenure as Premier, 1965-67, he earned the reputation of an efficient administrator who modernized Jordan’s governmental machinery.
During his current tenure he held both the Premiership and the Defense portfolio. In the latter capacity he ordered the King’s Bedouin Army to hunt down terrorists and drive them from Jordanian towns and refugee camps last spring. Thousands of terrorists were killed in the process and many surrendered to Israel rather than fall into the hands of the pursuing Jordanian Army. Jordanian representatives have been negotiating with the terrorists in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia under the auspices of that country and Egypt but failed to reach an accord. Only yesterday, the terrorists announced that they were breaking off the talks because there was “nothing to negotiate about.”
News of Tal’s death was greeted joyfully in the Palestinian refugee camps. But serious-minded West Bankers regarded it as a disaster. They felt that Hussein and the government headed by Tal were the only combination that could reach a peaceful settlement with Israel. In any renewal of fighting along the eastern front, they believe, the West Bankers will be the chief victims.