TEL AVIV (Feb. 2)
Premier Menachem Begin today angrily denounced Palestinian terrorists who injected mercury into Israeli citrus fruits in Europe in an attempt to sabotage one of the country’s principal exports. During a visit to the Sultam plant, a metal tools factory that also produces artillery pieces, Begin said, “Never before in the annals of humanity did we witness such barbarism like the recent case of the poisoned citrus.”
Referring to five Dutch children who fell ill with food poisoning after eating Jaffa oranges, Begin said that “never before was there an attempt to harm the economy of Israel on the bodies of Dutch or other children.” He vowed that “we shall not return to the borders of 1967. We shall not enable the creation of a state neighboring us that will be governed by those who poison citrus.”
It was reported, meanwhile, that Israeli security services are cooperating with their European counterparts to apprehend the perpetrators. The Israeli fruit was contaminated with non-lethal doses of mercury after it was unloaded at Antwerp for distribution to markets all over Europe. Security circles said today that efforts will be made to locate the terrorist command post which issued the orders to poison the oranges. But they acknowledged that it will not be easy to protect the fruit.
Israeli citrus exporters are facing a disastrous season. With much of the crop yet to be shipped abroad, Israel’s merchant marine has been paralyzed by a strike for the past two weeks. The striking seamen have asked stevedores abroad to support them by refusing to unload foreign ships chartered by the Israeli shipping companies. As a result, much of the citrus exports may rot on the docks here and citrus reaching Europe may be contaminated by terrorists. The panic in Europe over the citrus poisoning has already drastically cut sales.
REACTIONS IN EUROPE
(Meanwhile, the sale of Israeli oranges was halted in London’s fruit and vegetable markets today. But the Israeli Citrus Marketing Board said the panic was restricted to London where the press gave prominent coverage to the contaminated fruit found on the Continent.
(The situation was worse in West Germany where many importers and supermarkets cancelled orders for Israeli citrus after small quantities of poisoned oranges were found in Frankfurt and Darmstadt. The Bonn Health Ministry warmed people not to eat the Israeli fruit.
(The Netherlands Health Ministry disclosed today that not only Israeli oranges but oranges imported from Spain were found to be contaminated. The fruit reached Holland through Antwerp. It was supplied by the Belgian firm of Spitz, near Liege.
(The Belgian Health Ministry is investigating whether the Israeli oranges were injected with mercury after they were unloaded at Antwerp. Checks of food stores in Belgium failed to turn up any contaminated fruit but food inspectors were ordered to keep checking new supplies.
(Israeli oranges continued to be sold throughout Switzerland today. No poisoned fruit has been found in that country. Most of Switzerland’s citrus imports from Israel come via the Adriatic rather than Western European ports.)