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Historic Turning Point in Mideast: Israel and Egypt Sign 6-point Agreement

Israel and Egypt today signed a six-point armistice agreement initiated by U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger. The signing took place at 4:05 p.m. local time in a large tent provided by the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) at the 101 kilometer marker on the Suez-Cairo road. The document sets in motion negotiations between Israel and Egypt to resolve the problems arising from the Oct. 22 cease-fire and calls for an immediate prisoner of war exchange between the two countries. It was signed for Israel by Maj. Gen. Aharon Yariv, a close advisor of Premier Golda Meir, and for Egypt by Lt. Gen. Mouhamed Gemassi, Chief of Operations at Egyptian General Headquarters. The signing was witnessed by Maj. Gen. Ensio Siilasvuo of Finland, acting chief of UNEF and chief of the UN Truce Observation Organization (UNTSO).

The Israeli and Egyptian delegations faced each other across a table covered with a gray army blanket. The agreement was the first signed by Israel and Egypt in 24 years. The last time delegations of the two nations met face-to-face was at Rhodes in 1949 when they signed the armistice ending Israel’s War for Independence. Each delegate signed three copies of today’s agreement–in the English language–and each handed one copy over to the other. The third copy remained with Gen. Siilasvuo.

The six points to which they appended their signatures are: 1) Israel and Egypt agree to observe scrupulously the cease-fire called for by the UN Security Council; 2) Both sides agree that discussions between them will begin immediately to settle the question of the return to the Oct. 22 positions in the framework of agreement on the disengagement and separation of forces under the auspices of the UN; 3) The town of Suez will receive daily supplies of food, water and medicine. All wounded civilians in the town of Suez will be evacuated; 4) There shall be no impediment to the movement of non-military supplies to the east bank (of the Suez Canal where the Egyptian Third Army Corps is encircled); 5) The Israeli checkpoints on the Cairo-Suez road will be replaced by UN checkpoints. At the end of the road, Israeli officers can participate with the UN to supervise the non-military nature of the cargo at the bank of the canal; 6) As soon as the checkpoints are established on the Cairo-Suez road, there will be an exchange of all POWs, including the wounded.

There is no armistice or POW exchange agreement with Syria and several groups demonstrated outside the Government Information Office in Tel Aviv today protesting the signing of the agreement with Egypt before Israeli prisoners in Syrian hands are returned. Other demonstrators demanded the continued encirclement of the Egyptian Third Army as long as the Bab el Mandeb blockade is not lifted. In Haifa today, Mordechai Kashti, managing director of Zim, the national shipping line, said that 12 of the company’s vessels are still bottled up at Eilat because of the blockade.

Contrary to unofficial reports that circulated here Friday, the agreement does not mention lifting the blockade of the straits of Bab el Mandeb by Egypt. This and other omissions and ambiguities were cause for serious second thoughts by Israel after it announced last Thursday that it accepted Kissinger’s formula in principle. Discrepancies between Israel’s and Egypt’s interpretation of the six points were raised by Premier Meir at a meeting Friday morning with U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Keating, after which Mrs. Meir decided to postpone Israel’s final approval until Kissinger could provide the desired clarifications. Specifically, Israel’s interpretation of the agreement was that the POW exchange must be simultaneous with implementation of the cease-fire agreement and that the lifting of the Bab el Mandeb blockade was implicit in the agreement. Mrs. Meir stressed that Israel views the agreement to be valid “on the sea, in the air and on land.”

Israel also insisted that while UN checkpoints will be set up on the Cairo-Suez road, the section of the road in Israeli hands will continue to remain under full Israeli military control. The supply route to the Third Army and the town of Suez is not to be an opening for the establishment of an Egyptian corridor to the Third Army. Israel also demanded assurances of thorough and effective inspection of all supplies moving over the route to ascertain their non-military nature. Keating communicated Israel’s points to Kissinger who was in Peking over the weekend. The Israeli Cabinet, which met in special session Friday adjourned with the announcement that Israel’s acceptance of the six points “in principle” stood “pending further clarification.” The clarification arrived yesterday and after further consultation with her ministers, Premier Meir authorized Gen. Yariv to sign the agreement. She announced her decision yesterday at Lod Airport before taking off for London to attend a meeting of the Socialist International Executive.

Mrs. Meir expressed satisfaction that the agreement would be made “directly with one of our Arab neighbors” and added, “It should not take very many days before the prisoners of war in Egypt and Israel are exchanged and I am sure the joy there will be as great as the joy in Israel.” She added, “As far as Israel is concerned the greatest thing that we hope for and wish for is that there should be no shooting. The only other thing I want is peace.” She expressed hope “that the implementation of this agreement will pave the way for the next big step–real and serious negotiations between us and our neighbors.” (In New Orleans, Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban said last night that the agreement presents a “fair prospect” that negotiations may begin before the end of the year. See separate story P. 3.)

The designation of Gen. Yariv to sign the armistice document for Israel, placed the 53-year-old former army intelligence chief at the focus of attention and was a clear indication that his star is rising. He has been one of Mrs. Meir’s closest advisors this past year: he accompanied her on her recent visit to Washington and participated in her talks with President Nixon and Kissinger.

POW ISSUE STILL TOP PRIORITY

Today’s armistice agreement was signed on the 55th anniversary to the day of the armistice agreement of 1918 that ended World War I–the war to end all wars. But the scene could not have been in sharper contrast. Instead of the forest at Compiegne where a Wagon-Lits car on a railroad siding served the delegates, the Israelis and Egyptians met under a blazing desert sun inside a huge American Indian-style tent located midway–and about 50 yards –from Israeli and Egyptian headquarters tents. Israeli and Egyptian MPs in parade dress faced each other across the demarcation lines while blue-helmeted UN troops stood guard outside the meeting tent.

The Israelis were the first to come, driving up to the Israeli tent in a jeep. Gen. Yariv, in uniform with his insignia of rank and decorations was the first to alight, followed by six aides, among them Gen. (Res.) Shmuel Eyal who was in charge of POW problems during the war. His presence in the Israeli delegation made it clear that Israel intended to give the POW issue first priority in the talks with the Egyptians.

The Egyptian delegation arrived in a small convoy consisting of two Russian-made jeeps and a staff car. Two men in military uniform, one of them Gen. Gamassi, were accompanied by two in civilian dress, each carrying an attache case.

Both delegations entered their respective HQ tents. At 3 p.m. they emerged and entered the larger meeting tent over which the UN flag flew. The Israelis were seated on the left side of the table, the Egyptians on the right. Gen.Siilasvuo, an advisor and a Red Cross representative occupied the center of the table. There were pitchers of Israeli orange juice and the UN general helped himself to a glass. The talks lasted about 45 minutes and the agreement was signed at 4:05 p.m.

Gen. Yariv made a brief statement after the signing: “If there are any doubts, if there is in our hearts some anxiety as to the first step we have made today in signing the accord, let us say it clearly that the Israeli Defense Forces stand fast and will remain so to defend our cause on this front and on all other fronts. The Israeli army is the guarantee that we shall be able to go safely forward on the difficult road ahead of us.” He expressed hope that the Egyptians will fulfill the terms of the agreement just as Israel has pledged to observe them.

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