JERUSALEM (May. 19)
Israel and Syria are expected to sign a disengagement accord in Genera, possibly this week, and Israeli officials have not discounted the possibility, raised by a senior U.S. official, that final details of the accord might be negotiated in direct Israeli-Syrian talks in Geneva. These developments emerged today following what is described here as a dramatic breakthrough achieved by U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger in his latest round of shuttle diplomacy between Jerusalem and Damascus over the weekend.
State Department spokesman Robert Anderson, a member of Kissinger’s entourage. Indicated today that Israel and Syria have, in effect, agreed on a disengagement line. Asked by reporters this afternoon whether both countries had expressed a favorable attitude to the same demarcation line, Anderson replied. “Yes.” Israeli information Minister Shimon Peres anticipated the agreement when he said ” I think the line of separation offered by the U.S. is of such a nature that both sides could accept it.”
Kissinger returned here last night from the Syrian capital for more talks with Israeli leaders after President Hafez Assad reportedly gave his tentative acceptance of American “ideas” on disengagement. The “ideas,” Israeli sources have indicated unofficially, are closer to the initial Israeli position than the Syrian one. Kissinger postponed his return to Washington which had been scheduled for today. He met with Israeli ministers last night and again this afternoon and was reportedly prepared to make several more trips between the Israeli and Syrian capitals before the final stage of disengagement moves to Geneva, sources here said today.
WILL CONTINUE CONTACTS WITH KISSINGER
The Cabinet met this morning to study the latest U.S. proposals on disengagement. A brief announcement issued after the session said the Cabinet was briefed by Premier Golda Meir after which a short discussion ensued at which it was decided “to continue contacts with the Secretary of State.” The Israeli and American negotiating teams met for three hours this afternoon and reportedly got down to details on the nature of disengagement, the methods of continuing the talks and possibly continued negotiations with Syria after Kissinger leaves the region.
The Secretary goes back to Damascus tomorrow. Some sources said he would make at least four more trips between the two capitals, but Peres indicated that there would be “at least two rounds more.” It seemed certain that at some stage of the continuing talks Kissinger would interrupt his Jerusalem-Damascus shuttle to report the latest developments to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in Cairo.
Even as disengagement prospects soared, heavy fighting continued on the Syrian front yesterday and today and Israel Air Force Jets continued to blast terrorist strongholds in southern Lebanon in the aftermath of last week’s massacre of school children in Maalot. One Israeli soldier was killed and four were wounded in the fighting on the Syrian front yesterday. Artillery exchanges continued today but no further Israeli casualties were reported.
Israeli naval craft went into action against terrorists in Lebanon for the first time yesterday. A military spokesman said gunboats shelled a terrorist base south of the Lebanese port of Tyre. Israeli sources put terrorist casualties in Lebanon at more than 300 killed or wounded in the last three days.
(Lebanon protested strongly to the Security Council over Israeli reprisal raids Thursday and Friday but was dissuaded by Western and Arab diplomats from calling for another emergency session of the Council to condemn Israel. U.S., British and French diplomats at the UN urged the Lebanese delegation to refrain from such action because it could disrupt Secretary Kissinger’s efforts to obtain a disengagement accord. Egyptian and Jordanian delegates were also reported to be concerned that another heated debate in the Security Council could harm Kissinger’s efforts.)
BREAKTHROUGH COMES AFTER HOPELESS DEADLOCK
The first indication that an Israeli-Syrian disengagement agreement was in sight after nearly three weeks of arduous personal diplomacy by the American Secretary of State, came when Kissinger put off his departure for Washington. The turnabout occurred at a time when negotiations seemed hopelessly deadlocked. Reporters who accompanied Kissinger to Damascus yesterday morning were told in fact that the Secretary was preparing a statement for release last night explaining why he was returning home without an accord. But by then, Kissinger apparently had an inkling of success.
U.S. officials said that American “ideas” were presented to both Israel and Syria on Thursday and that Israel had responded favorably in talks with Kissinger here Friday. Kissinger elicited a positive response from Assad in Damascus yesterday and an agreement took shape–barring minor details — on the vital issue of disengagement lines, Kissinger’s talks here today reportedly covered other aspects of disengagement such as the UN role and limited forces zones.
Israeli officials are carefully steering clear of any description or classification of the American “ideas.” Some sources said these were essentially Israeli ideas which Kissinger represented to Assad as American for face-saving purposes. According to unofficial reports, the tentative agreement shapes up as follows:
WHAT ISRAEL WILL RETURN
Israel will return to Syria all of the Syrian territory it captured in the Yom Kippur War last October, will evacuate some Syrian territory captured in the 1967 Six-Day War including land in the Rafid area on the southern Golan Heights, and the Syrian side of Mt Hermon which will be turned over to a United Nations force. The deserted town of Kuneitra, capital of the Golan Heights, will be included in the UN buffer zone but Kuneitra will be restored to Syrian civilian administration.
Three strategic hills overlooking Kuneitra and protecting nearby Israeli settlements will be retained by Israel, sources here stressed, Israel has agreed to return some small villages in the locality and some fields and orchards cultivated by the settlers of Derom Hagolan as a “gesture” to Kissinger.
The major security problem is the return of Syrian civilians to Kuneitra–Damascus has put their number at 100,000 — though the final figure is subject to negotiations. The problem is to be solved by an American proposal to build a security fence in the western environs of Kuneitra separating the town from adjacent fields that will remain in Israeli hands. The purpose of the fence and the UN force would be to prevent the infiltration of terrorists into the Israeli-held zone.
Details of a limited forces zone have yet to be worked out. Israel is reportedly demanding a deep zone on both sides clear of heavy artillery. But Israel reportedly would like to retain a fairly large number of tanks in its zone to protect the Golan settlements should the need arise.
PACE OF GOLAN SETTLEMENTS TO CONTINUE
Israel and Syria obviously regard the emerging disengagement accord in different contexts. Damascus sees it as a very temporary arrangement and is expected to stress that view when it signs the accord. The Syrians have abandoned, for the time being, their demand for an Israeli commitment to further withdrawals.
Israel on the other hand expects the arrangement to last a considerable time if only because it cannot envision a final peace settlement at this time with its most hostile and stubborn neighbor. Some sources indicated today that Israel expects the UN presence in the buffer zone and Kuneitra to continue for years — as it did in the Gaza Strip between 1956-67. As Israel sees the accord with Syria. its main advantage lies in opening the way to a final peace treaty with Egypt and more immediately, the cessation of fighting on the northern front.
Meanwhile, the Cabinet denied today press reports that Israel was slowing down the pace of settlement on the Golan Heights. Minister-With-out-Portfolio Israel Galili who heads the ministerial settlement committee, denied any such intentions. “No directives were given to stop the establishment of settlements. Settlement activities continue according to previous resolutions and according to the procedures adopted by the government,” Galili’s statement said.