TEL AVIV (Apr. 8)
An Israel Air Force plane was lost and its crew balled out over Lebanese territory in the vicinity of Mt. Hermon this morning, a military spokesman reported. According to the spokesman, the plane caught fire as a result of a mechanical malfunction and had to be abandoned. It was the first Israeli Air Force plane lost since the Yom Kippur War. The type of plane and number of its crew were not disclosed. The families of the crew members have been notified. The official Lebanese radio reported today that two Israeli pilots had bailed out safely and were taken prisoner.
Meanwhile, Syrian forces continued shelling Israeli positions all along the cease-fire lines today. Israeli forces returned the fire in an exchange that started in the morning and continued during the afternoon. No Israeli casualties were reported. A military spokesman said artillery and tank fire was exchanged on the southern Golan Heights and in the Syrian enclave captured by Israel during the Yom Kippur War. He said the Syrians also fired from time to time at Israeli positions on Mt. Hermon. According to an Israeli spokesman, Syrian targets 15 kilometers behind the lines were hit by Israeli artillery during yesterday’s exchange.
Fighting escalated along the Syrian front over the Passover weekend. Israel Air Force planes went into action Saturday for the first time since the cease-fire to forestall a Syrian commando group attempting to seize the peak of Mt. Hermon, some 9000 feet above sea level. An Israeli soldier was injured during an eight-hour artillery duel yesterday that continued after dark.
Syrian gunners shelled Israeli positions in the southern Golan Heights and along the Yom Kippur War enclave most of Saturday, employing artillery, tank guns and, in one sector several Soviet-made “Sager” anti-tank missiles. The Syrians also initiated artillery and tank duels Friday in the Golan and enclave sectors. No Israeli casualties were reported in those exchanges.
MT. HERMON ASSAULT MOST SERIOUS EFFORT
The Syrian attempt on Mt. Hermon between Friday night and dawn Saturday was regarded as the most serious escalation since the Syrians initiated their war of attrition over a month ago. The Hermon peak was captured by Israeli forces during the Yom Kippur War but was abandoned because of severe weather conditions on the snow-covered mountain. Israeli forces continued to patrol the region, however, and on Saturday morning they spotted Syrians on the mountain top.
The Syrian force, estimated at 40 or more men, was regarded as a possible advance force heralding a major Syrian ground attack. Alerted Israeli forces opened mortar and artillery fire in an effort to dislodge them. The Air Force was also called in Syrian jets were seen along the cease-fire line but made no attempt to intervene. The Syrians eventually withdrew from Mt. Hermon. Two Syrian soldiers were spotted and Israeli forces captured one of them who disclosed that he belonged to a commando unit.
The Syrians apparently were attempting to establish an artillery observation post on top of the mountain which would give them an excellent vantage point for directing fire at Israeli forces deployed on the Yom Kippur War enclave. Syrian gunners shelled the Mt. Hermon peak Saturday night, apparently believing that Israeli soldiers had reoccupied the site.
ASSAD WARNS SYRIA WILL CONTINUE ARMS BUILD-UP
According to reports received here from Damascus, Syrian President Hafez Assad said last night his country would continue building up its armed forces until victory. Addressing a rally in Damascus marking the 27th anniversary of the ruling Arab Baath Socialist Party, the Syrian leader said: “The enemy (Israel) has stepped up the fighting with the aim of exerting further pressure on us. Intimidate us and prevent us from persisting in our march.”
Assad did not rule out political action to reach a Mideast settlement. “But political action as we understand it must be aimed at achieving an honorable solution which ensures justice and puts things in their right place,” he declared, adding “In like manner and for this aim we understand military action and will continue exercising it.”