Tel Aviv (Jul. 26)
Life is returning to normal in the towns, villages and agricultural settlements in northern Galilee — but slowly and with widespread skepticism that the cease-fire which went into effect Friday would last very long. The skepticism was shared by Gen. Avigdor Ben-Gal, commander of the northern region, who said yesterday that he considered the situation “more of a temporary truce than a cease-fire.”
Indeed, the cease-fire was violated three times within its first 24 hours. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, headed by Ahmed Jabril and supported by Libya, fired Katyusha rockets and artillery into northern Israel and at the Christian enclave in south Lebanon. There were no reported casualties and neither Israeli nor Christian forces replied.
The return to normalcy in northern Israel means repairing the damage done by 11 days of almost incessant rocket and artillery fire. As residents emerged from bomb shelters in Nahariya, Kiryat Shemona, Metullah and a score of kibbutzim and moshavim in Upper Galilee, they set about calculating the material costs. The cost in lives is well known and cause for bitterness. Six persons, including a 16-year-old boy, Shimon Dayan, were killed by terrorist rocket and shell fire.
The sixth victim — 65-year-old Ashraf Malouf — was killed by a rocket burst in Kiryat Shemona only an hour before the cease-fire went into effect. Fourteen other residents were wounded. Malouf was buried today. Housing Minister David Levy eulogized him on behalf of the government. But his grieving family at the gravesite shouted, “We don’t want a cease-fire. We want revenge.”
Upper Galilee is an agricultural region. For the local populace, the damage to crops and the destruction of thousands of trees planted by the Jewish National Fund is the saddest of all material losses. In Nahariya, a popular seaside resort hit by rockets at the peak of its summer tourist season, the economic losses are most keenly felt. Hotel keepers are offering generous discounts to guests who interrupted their vacations, if they return, and to others who cancelled reservations.
Israelis and foreign tourists are being urged to visit Nahariya as a sign of confidence. Similarly, residents of the border towns and villages who packed up and left at the height of the bombardment have been urged to return to their homes as quickly as possible if only to deny the terrorists a moral victory. Most have come home, but there are waverers.
ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE CEASE-FIRE
The cease-fire went into effect at 1:30 p.m. local time on Friday. At that hour “all hostile military actions between Lebanese and Israeli territory in either direction will cease,” U.S. special envoy Philip Habib announced in Jerusalem, with Premier Menachem Begin standing at his side. Begin confirmed Habib’s announcement. “The government of Israel has endorsed the statement just made by Philip Habib, the emissary of the President of the United States,” he said.
The announcement followed a drama-filled morning at the Prime Ministers Office. First, Begin met with Habib who had just flown in from Saudi Arabia. Then he convened a surprise Cabinet meeting which lasted two hours. Habib returned to the Prime Ministers Office to learn from Begin that the Cabinet had approved the cease-fire.
Israeli officials were anxious to avoid any impression of a deal with the Palestine Liberation Organization. They stressed repeatedly that the announcement did not contain the words “cease-fire.” They were not used either by Habib or Begin because “cease-fire” implied an agreement between the two parties to a conflict, the officials explained. They insisted that Israel had made no agreement with the PLO which it continues to regard as a terrorist organization not to be negotiated with directly or indirectly.
What Israel has done, the officials said, was to respond to a call from the U.S. Habib negotiated with the government of Lebanon which, in turn, had been “in contact with other parties,” apparently a euphemism for the PLO. Israel policy makers plainly fear that the PLO will make political capital out of the entire episode — the two weeks of bloody fighting followed by a negotiated truce.
DIFFERING VIEWS OF CEASE-FIRE
The first senior government official to try to explain the truce to the public was Education Minister Zevulun Hammer. He said, on an Israel Radio interview Friday, that “The Cabinet was not prepared for any direct arrangement with the terrorists but we were ready for some pacification and peaceful relations on the northern border. In fact, the formulation agreed to refers to a pacification between Lebanon and Israel.”
However, Shimon Peres, chairman of the opposition Labor Party, said today that the government gave way to American pressure to agree to a cease-fire. “The government knows that a cease-fire is not peace and they know that the negotiations were actually with the PLO,” Peres said.
PLO chief Yasir Arafat reportedly agreed that the cease-fire would include the conflict between the Palestinians and Maj. Saad Haddad’s Christian militiamen in south Lebanon. Israel Radio reported that Israel agreed to see to it that Haddad’s forces observe the truce.
Chief of Staff Gen. Rafael Eitan said yesterday that the PLO accepted the cease-fire “becaue they had been broken or were on the point of breaking following Israel’s massive blows.” But according to Eitan, the PLO will take advantage of the halt in hostilities to regroup and replenish their arms from Syria, the Soviet Union and Libya.
Gen. Ben-Gal summed up the situation as he saw it. “I hope the calm will continue, but my experience of this front makes me skeptical about it lasting. I regard it more of a temporary truce than a cease-fire. I presume that it the terrorists shoot at us, we will shoot back … But such a cease-fire is not the way we can solve the problem of the clash between Zionism and the Palestine movement,” he said.
DENY PLO CAPTURED ISRAELI SOLDIER
A footnote to the weekend’s events was a claim by the PLO that an Israeli soldier had been taken prisoner during a commando raid on Lebanon. The El Fatah news agency in Beirut published a picture yesterday of a man identified as the soldier, David Menashe.
The Israeli army denied that any of its men had been lost in recent raids and a check of their records showed no such soldier. They army suggested that the PLO may have picked up a photograph dropped by a soldier and decided to use it for propaganda purposes.