JERUSALEM (May. 28)
Striking workers of the Eilat-Ashkelon oil pipeline company clashed with police in Ashkelon this morning precipitating a general strike at both ends of the pipeline. The strikers accused the police of firing on workers during a bizarre boat-ramming incident in Ashkelon harbor. Police said they fired into the air to warn off strikers who they claimed were trying to sink a police boat. The management of the pipeline company announced the suspension of all operations until tempers are calmer.
Police Minister Shlomo Hillel said later that he was determined to have the strikers prosecuted for their attacks on the police boats. He said police films and tape recordings of the events would be used as evidence. Premier Yitzhak Rabin held meetings during the day with the ministers of police, labor and justice, and members of the pipeline company management on ending the strike and getting the oil flowing again.
The harbor at Ashkelon was quiet this afternoon. Strikers still manned their boats and police in their own boats kept watch at a distance. Some strikers met with Histadrut officials. The operating company said it would reopen the pipeline only if the strike ended.
Today’s episode was the first incident of violence in the wildcat strike that began 10 days ago when the pipeline company announced the engagement of an outside contractor to moor and service tankers in Ashkelon. The move resulted in the dismissal of several employes of the pipeline company’s marine department.
Workers at the oil terminal and tank farm in Eilat at the Red Sea end of the pipeline went on strike at the same time in a dispute over wages. Histadrut disapproved both strikes but its injunctions to return to work were ignored. The Eilat workers, however, agreed to mediation and ended their strike on Saturday. But the Ashkelon em- ployes defied the back to work orders issued over the weekend by a Tel Aviv district labor court.
BACKGROUND OF THE CLASH
The trouble began this morning when police boats escorted three service boats belonging to the contractor company to the tanker moorings in Ashkelon harbor. Two boats manned by strikers rammed a police boat and forced it aground.-Chief Superintendent Arye Ibtzan, police commander of the southern district ordered a rescue boat to refloat the grounded craft but it too was attacked by strikers in four other boats. A tow line put aboard the grounded police boat was severed by the strikers who used their boats continuously to ram the police boat.
Ibtzan said that at that point he ordered his men to fire because they were endangered. The workers said the police shot directly at their boat, Ibtzan insisted that his men fired into the air. No one was hurt but tempers boiled over as a result of the shooting and extraordinarily high temperature at Ashkelon today. The striking workers rammed a third police boat which had no one aboard.
News of the incident spread swiftly through Ashkelon and to Eilat. Workers at both ports walked off their jobs in protest. In addition, employes of Israel’s inland airline, Arkia, which serves Eilat called a meeting to consider “sanctions” to protest the police shooting. The head of the workers’ committee demanded the immediate resignation of Gen. (Res.) Avraham Botzer, former commander of the Israeli Navy, who is director general of the pipeline company. Meanwhile, barely a week before the Suez Canal is scheduled to reopen, Israel’s oil pipeline remains dry.