Tel Aviv (Jul. 29)
Israeli fighter planes shot down a Syrian MIG-25 jet interceptor in a brief dogfight north of Beirut today. A military spokesman said the Israeli aircraft were on a routine reconnaissance flight over Lebanon when the Syrians interfered. All Israeli planes returned safely to their bases, he said.
Israel has reserved the right to continue its surveillance flights over Lebanon while the ceasefire it agreed to last Friday remains in effect. The flights are described as non-combat reconnaissance to monitor any Palestinian build-up of weapons and forces indicating preparations to renew hostilities against Israel.
A Syrian spokesman said yesterday that Israeli spy planes would be shot down over Lebanon. Premier Menachem Begin, addressing a world conference of Jewish jurists in Jerusalem today, noted that “it is easier said than done because today we shot down a MIG-25.”
The U.S. has apparently agreed with Israel that reconnaissance flights over Lebanon would not be regarded as a violation of the cease-fire worked out by special envoy Philip Habib. It brought to an end II days of intense rocket and shell fire against Israeli towns and settlements in Upper Galilee and heavy Israeli bombing raids on Palestinian targets in Lebanon.
According to Israeli sources, the overflights are an essential element of security. The terrorists reportedly are receiving large quantities of weapons through ports in northern Lebanon. They are sent to Syria where they are issued to Palestinian units which then move south toward the Israeli border.
PALESTINIAN CONCENTRATIONS PINPOINTED
The Israeli sources claim there are about 15,000 Palestinians in Lebanon who are gradually being transformed from guerrilla bands into regular army units. They are now equipped with heavy weapons including tanks, field artillery and multi-barrel rocket launchers. Those weapons inflicted severe damage on more than a score of towns and settlements in northern Israel and claimed six lives before the cease-fire took effect.
The Israelis say they have pin-pointed Palestinian concentrations. About 5,000 Palestinians are said to be located in the southern region between the Zaharani River and the Israeli border. Another 3,000-5,000 are in Beirut. There are about 1,500 in the area of Sidon, about 800 in the zone controlled by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and about 500 in the area of Tripoli in northern Lebanon, the Israelis say.