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Rabin Says Government Intends to Complete 200 Civilian Housing Units in Ophira by April, 1977

Premier Yitzhak Rabin declared today that the government fully intended to complete 200 civilian housing units at Ophira, the Israeli name given to Sharm el-Sheikh, the strategic outpost on the southeastern tip of the Sinai peninsula. He told the Cabinet that the project would be completed by April, 1977 and would be implemented by the Housing Ministry. Housing Minister Avraham Ofer said his Ministry would execute the building plans.

The question was raised after Ofer made a statement in a radio interview from Sharm el-Sheikh 10 days ago questioning the wisdom of establishing a civilian settlement there. Ofer observed that. Moses had striven to take the Jewish people away from the Sinai wilderness. His remarks aroused the wrath of the Likud opposition as well as “hawks” and middle-readers inside his own Labor Party.

Minister-Without-Portfolio Israel Galili, who is chairman of the ministerial, committee for new settlements, said Friday that he was surprised by Ofer’s statement that the development of Sharm el-Sheikh was at the bottom of his ministry’s priorities list because the government has not yet drawn up a master plan for the region. Galili, a veteran Labor Party leader of “hawkish” views who was a close confidant of former President Golda Meir, insisted that the government would carry out its housing plan at Ophira. He said his committee decided in December, 1972 to build 1000 units at the outpost and that decision was still valid.

POTENTIAL OBSTACLE TO PEACE SETTLEMENT

Sharm el-Sheikh nevertheless remains a potential obstacle to an eventual peace settlement with Egypt. The Egyptians are not considered likely to renounce their claim to the spot and the Israelis are expected to insist on retaining a military presence there because it

CANAL REOPENING WELCOMED

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Shimon Peres assured the Egyptians yesterday that they had nothing to fear from Israel when the Suez Canal is reopened officially next month. In a radio interview, Peres said the reopening of the water way was assumed at the time of the first separation of forces agreement with Egypt in November, 1973, immediately after the Yom Kippur War. He said the January, 1974 disengagement agreement with Egypt contained clauses guaranteeing the safety of the canal.

“Once the canal is opened, Israel will surely do whatever it can to ensure that navigation will be free without any disturbances or threats,” Peres said. He stated that Israel in fact welcomed the move to improve Egypt’s economy which would indicate a retreat from the war option, Peres said Israel’s only demand was “the right of a client to go through the canal. We shall behave like a most responsible neighbor. If I were an Egyptian, I wouldn’t be worried about it.”

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