TEL AVIV (Nov. 21)
Damascus radio announced last night that Syria has agreed to a six-month extension of the mandate of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on the Golan Heights, due to expire Nov. 30. But developments in Lebanon over the last 24 hours have caused concern in Israel and may require a new policy decision with respect to that country in the very near future, sources here said today. (See separate story from UN on mandate extension.)
Syrian troops, serving as part of the all-Arab peace-keeping force, crossed the Litani River into southern Lebanon and reached Marj-Ayoun, a township just north of the Israeli border settlement of Metullah. The Christian radio station in Beirut reported today that other Syrian units crossed the river on their way to the Lebanese port of Tyre.
More alarming, however, was the bazooka attack Friday on an Israeli patrol along the Lebanese border near Zar’it and the firing today of several Katyusha rockets at Nahariya from across the Lebanese border. In both attacks there were no casualties and Israelis returned fire. But the incidents, the first in that region in nearly a year, may have signaled the start of a new wave of terrorist activity in southern Lebanon.
Some sources said it might have been a test of Israel’s reaction. A senior security source was quoted today as saying that Israel would not permit a renewal of terrorist activity near its border and would take the initiative against terrorist groups that disturb the tranquility of the region.
SYRIA ANXIOUS TO AVOID CONFRONTATION.
The Syrian troop movements are regarded as less ominous for the time being. Israel has repeatedly informed Syria, through U.S. diplomatic channels, that it would intervene should Syria concentrate forces near the Israeli border. Damascus is believed anxious to avoid a confrontation with Israel at a time when its army is spread thin in Lebanon and for that reason is also interested in preventing a renewal of terrorist activity in the border region.
Sources here said that Israel would not regard the presence of token Syrian forces south of the Litani or at Tyre’as a provocation but would react if large Syrian formations entered the border area now held by Lebanese Christians. But the situation is less stable than it was a few days ago. Damascus is under pressure from Moslems and Palestinian terrorists to send troops into southern Lebanon to end the cooperation between Israel and the Lebanese Christian population.
The Israelis are also disturbed by the bazooka and Katyusha attacks which come as a surprise. For months Israeli defense officials have claimed that the Christian and non-leftist Moslem forces in southern Lebanon were sufficiently strong to prevent any terrorist activity there.
Meanwhile. Defense Minister Shimon Peres told today’s Cabinet meeting that a Syrian takeover of southern Lebanon would endanger Israel’s security. He said Syrian troops were gradually spreading over southern Lebanon and that they would take over the northern part of that country in the not too distant future. As of now, only a small part of southern Lebanon is still “Lebanese.” Peres said.