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South Lebanon Situation Still of Major Concern to Israel

A security panel of senior Cabinet ministers and top military brass concluded this afternoon that no change was called for in Israel’s position on the situation in southern Lebanon inasmuch as Israel has received no reply to its demand that Syria pull its forces out of that region. The demand was conveyed to Damascus through American diplomatic channels several days ago and a response was expected from the United States.

Sources here stressed that there was no ultimatum to Damascus but that some response had been anticipated by today. For that reason, apparently, Premier Yitzhak Rabin called this afternoon’s meeting which was attended by Foreign Minister Yigal Allon, Defense Minister Shimon Peres, Chief of Staff Gen. Mordechai Gur and Gen. Shlomo Gazit, chief of military intelligence.

The sources warned that Israel cannot wait indefinitely for a reply. They said, however, that today’s meeting had been arranged at the beginning of the week, indicating that there was no feeling of urgency at this time.

The U.S. appears to be still studying developments in southern Lebanon in light of a joint communique issued in Damascus yesterday by President Elias Sarkis of Lebanon and President Hafez Assad of Syria. It affirmed their interest in keeping the peace in southern Lebanon and stressed that the predominently Syrian inter-Arab peace force there was under the orders of President Sarkis. Initially, Israeli circles expressed cautious optimism that this was a possible prelude to a Syrian pull-back without creating the impression that Syria was bowing to Israeli pressure.

On the other hand, by placing full responsibility on Sarkis, the situation was given a purely Lebanese character, the sources noted. Therefore, Israel’s demand for a Syrian withdrawal could be construed as interference in Lebanon’s internal affairs. The sources described the situation as “still serious” and warned that “time is running out.”

DISTURBED BY REPORTS

Israel is disturbed by reports that the Syrians are pitching tents and digging tank positions around Nabatiyeh, about 10 miles from the Israeli border and that they are once again aiding Moslem and terrorist units against Christian forces. Lebanese arriving at the open fence today reported these developments.

Israeli military circles rejected as ridiculous Syria’s claim that its presence in southern Lebanon is to disarm the Moslems and terrorists. According to the circles, the Syrians are facilitating the transfer of equipment by terrorists, including heavy mortars and light artillery to the Nabatiyeh region.

One terrorist strongpoint, an ancient Crusaders redoubt known as Beaufort Castle which commands the bend of the Litani River, has been supplied with heavy armaments. Terrorists have been attacking Christian units from there for the past few days.

There was a lull in the recent fighting in southern Lebanon today. According to reports from the region, this is due to the destruction of a Moslem ammunitions dump by a Christian mortar barrage forcing the Moslems to cease fire. Meanwhile, Lebanese workers have returned in full force to their jobs in northern Israel. At Hanita a special Hebrew ulpan was opened for Lebanese girls who have jobs in Israel and want to learn the language. Fifteen of them are attending classes twice a week.

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