TEL AVIV (Feb. 24)
Operation Rescue became Operation Relief today as hundreds of Bedouins whose lands were covered by severe floods in northern Sinai and the Negev over the weekend flocked to El Arish where Israeli army units distributed warm clothing, flour, sugar and milk. Yesterday, many of the same soldiers, aided by helicopters, rescued 500 Bedouins from the raging torrents that collapsed hundreds of mud houses, swept away their utensils and destroyed countless livestock.
The toll in human lives was low, due primarily to the rescue efforts of the army. Defense Minister Shimon Peres, who visited the devastated areas today, told the soldiers, “You have proved your courage in war and your courage in peace.” An estimated 20 Bedouins died in the floods, though so far only nine bodies have been retrieved. According to the soldiers, some of the casualties were suffered because the nomadic tribesmen refused to be separated from their donkeys, camels and other livestock.
The Public Works Department, meanwhile, is preparing to restore the roads damaged by the floods and to help the Bedouins rebuild their homes. Scores are being housed temporarily in El Arish schools and other buildings. The flood waters have subsided in most areas. Meteorologists said the floods were the worst recorded in this century. They estimated that tens of millions of cubic meters of water, accumulated from heavy rainfalls, poured through the Wadi Arish, a dry river bed in northern Sinai, on Saturday.