TEL AVIV (Feb. 5)
An Israeli soldier was killed and two others were wounded in fierce exchanges of fire yesterday all along the Syrian front. The mounting intensity of the battles, conducted with long range artillery, recoiless cannon, tank guns and mortars, prompted Israeli authorities to impose restrictions on civilian traffic on the Golan Heights yesterday and sent local settlers into bomb shelters. The Syrians bombarded Kuneitra on the Golan Heights which was described today as a “ghost town.”
The Israeli high command apparently decided to respond in full measure to the Syrian shelling. Israeli artillery batteries and tank guns opened massive barrages against Syrian positions yesterday and reportedly scored direct hits. Israeli circles expressed the belief today that the upsurge of hostilities on the Syrian front was the deliberate intention of senior Syrian army officers who are opposed to disengagement talks with Israel. But other sources noted that a similar intensification of fighting occurred on the Egyptian front last month just prior to the successful conclusion of disengagement talks with Egypt.
The “heating up” of the Syrian line disappointed Israeli ski enthusiasts who were looking forward to an extended season on the slopes of Mt. Hermon where the snowfall has been heavier than usual. The ski lifts which were damaged by Syrian attacks during the Yom Kippur War have been repaired and were to have been reopened this week. But Defense Minister Moshe Dayan has ordered the ski facilities to remain closed until a safer situation prevails in the area.
SLOW PACE FOR THIRD ARMY THIN-OUT
Meanwhile, the disengagement process continued to work smoothly, if somewhat slower than expected, on the Egyptian front today There have been no direct reports from the Israeli side of the line inasmuch as government policy prohibits Israeli and foreign journalists from visiting the area. Israeli forces reportedly pulled back to a new line on the west side of the Suez Canal yesterday, relinquishing the evacuated area to the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) which subsequently handed it back to the Egyptians.
The Egyptian Third Army Corps seems to be taking its time thinning out its forces east of the canal in accordance with the disengagement schedule. According to the time-table, the Third Army’s strength should have been, by yesterday, half what it was before the disengagement accord went into effect. Although it has been reduced to some extent, it has not been halved, Israeli sources said.
SAM MISSILE SITES STILL INTACT
Reliable sources said today that Israel fully expects Egypt to dismantle the five SAM missile sites constructed on the east side of the Suez Canal. The existence of the sites, recently disclosed by Newsweek magazine, was known to Israel while the disengagement talks were in progress last month, the sources said. The Egyptians promised that the batteries, which have not been armed with missiles, would be dismantled once Israeli forces retired from the west bank of the Suez Canal.
According to the separation of forces agreement, ground-to-air missile batteries on both sides will be positioned so as to be capable of providing cover for their respective forces only Israel interprets that proviso to mean that no missile sites will be erected east of the canal or less than 20 kilometers west of the waterway Egypt constructed the sites before the disengagement talks began and there have been no signs that the Egyptians intend to violate their obligation to dismantle them, Israeli sources said.