WASHINGTON (Dec. 20)
The Carter Administration drew a curtain of silence down on the Arab-Israeli political situation today while stubbing its toe in “even-handed” attempts at deploring the Israeli air strikes today at Palestinian terrorist bases in south Lebanon following 14 attacks on civilians in Israel since the beginning of November.
At the White House, Presidential News Secretary Jody Powell refused to discuss the Knesset’s rejection of “unjust” and “one-sided” U.S. official pressure on Israel to approve the Carter-endorsed proposals by Egypt to alter the U.S. draft treaty of Nov. II.
“Obviously we have our feelings but the Administration does not feel debating serves any useful purpose,” Powell said in response to one of several questions on the subject. “People at the State Department and others involved are willing to say what was involved.” In a sharply toned “no comment,” Department spokesman Thomas Reston dismissed the Knesset action.
Reston, however, spoke of the “terrorist acts inside of Israel” during the “past few months, including last Sunday’s bus bombing in Jerusalem, and then referred to reports of the Israeli bombing raids in Lebanon which he said “we understand is related by the Israelis to terrorist incidents inside of Israel.”
DEPLORES SPIRAL OF VIOLENCE
“We deplore this escalating spiral of violence,” Reston added. “It inflicts suffering on innocent victims and it hurts the cause of peace in the Middle East.” Asked if he were deploring “both sides,” Reston emphasized, “yes, indeed so — the bus bombing as well as the air strike.”
This brought a flurry of questions from reporters who wanted to know whether the State Department thought the air strike was an “unjust retaliation,” how the State Department knows “innocent civilians” in Lebanon were casualties, and whether a country victimized by terrorism does not have the right to retaliate?
Reston acknowledged that “our reportings on the impact of the raids are not fully in and have not yet been assessed,” and that “we will have to see once our reporting gets in just who was hurt.” When it was suggested he was deploring the air raid on “incomplete reports” in Washington, Reston admitted that “I am not aware of any reports that we have from our Embassy at this point on the bombing raids in Lebanon.”
Reston added that the U.S. comment was based on Israeli government statements on the air strikes. “What we are condemning,” Reston continued, “is an escalating spiral of violence. What is necessary to bring an end to the killings is for the parties to sit down and resolve the matter.” He said whether Israel has a sovereign right to retaliate is a legal question he was not prepared to answer.