United Nations Report Finds Egypt Responsible for Suez Canal Clash
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United Nations Report Finds Egypt Responsible for Suez Canal Clash

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A United Nations report issued by Secretary General U Thant tonight placed blame for the artillery exchange between Israeli and Egyptian forces across the Suez Canal last Tuesday on the Egyptian forces. The report, in effect, substantiated Israeli charges that the attempt by the Egyptians to send survey boats into the northern sector of the canal had been undertaken in full knowledge of the fact that Israel had refused to agree to operations there and despite last-minute warnings of the Israeli position transmitted on the morning of Jan. 30 by Lt. Gen. Odd Bull, the UN cease-fire observation chief.

The UN chronicle of events on Jan. 30, when the Egyptians made two attempts to send boats from Lake Timsah into the northern sector of the canal, largely substantiated the Israel report on the incident.

The major part of the report was devoted to a detailed review of the negotiations leading to the Israeli agreement to permit the Egyptians to begin work to free the 15 merchant ships trapped in the canal since the June war. When the question was first raised in negotiations, Foreign Minister Abba S, Eban of Israel notified UN Ambassador Gunnar Jarring in a letter dated Dec. 27 that “we are prepared to give our agreement to the southward exit of the 15 ships stranded since June 7 in the Suez Canal.” The letter stressed that this would be “a one-time operation without prejudice” to the Israel-Egyptian agreement on use of the canal.

In subsequent talks in Cairo, the report revealed, the Egyptians refused to recognize that Israel had any rights in the matter and, on Jan. 1, to make matters clear, Israel restated its position to Gen. Bull. The report noted that since Israel was firm in its opposition to work in the northern stretch “it was necessary for UNTSO (United Nations Truce Observation Organization) to warn the UAR that it could not give assurance about maintaining the cease-fire if the survey boats moved northward.” Gen. Bull, it was disclosed, personally passed on this warning to the Egyptians.

On Jan. 21, the report noted, Israel Defense Minister Moshe Dayan warned Gen. Bull that Israel’s agreement covered only survey and clearance of the southern part of the canal. He told the UN official that if the survey showed this impractical, Israel would then be ready to consider the question of northward evacuation.

Gen. Bull asked Gen. Dayan to reconsider this position and on Jan. 25 Gen. Dayan replied, stressing that Israel “cannot agree to any activities concerning the release of these stranded ships except in the context of the southward exit,” He pointed out that this ruled out survey efforts in the northern sector.


The Secretary-General then asked Israel to reconsider its position. Ambassador Joseph Tekoah repeated Israel’s position and urged the Secretary-General to advise Egypt “that the survey be confined to the south.” The Secretary-General declined to pass on this advice while agreeing to Inform Egypt of Israel’s continued opposition. On Jan. 27, Ambassador Tekoah notified U Thant, and Jerusalem notified Gen. Bull that ‘in no circumstances can the northward survey be carried out without our consent.”

The Secretary-General, on Jan. 28, informed Eban that the Egyptians would be informed that the UN cease-fire forces would not be able to prevent armed clashes if they undertook the survey in the north. He again urged that the Israelis modify their position, Insisting that the survey was merely “a technical undertaking.” On the same day, the Secretary-General here and Gen. Bull in Cairo, warned the Egyptians that the northern survey could not be carried out without risk of a clash.

Ambassador Eban reviewed the whole course of the negotiations in a letter to the Secretary General dated Jan. 31 in which he stressed the urgency, pending final solution of the canal question, “that existing agreements governing the present situation be scrupulously observed.” He pointed out that the Egyptians were directly responsible for the Jan. 30 incident since they had acted in violation of the agreements and ‘in defiance” of a specific request from the Secretary-General and Gen. Bull.

He said if the Suez Canal cease-fire agreement “can be set aside unilaterally by the UAR then this precedent will affect the enters process of the establishment of peace through the promotion of agreements.” He concluded by affirming that “Israel continues to favor the southward release of the 15 stranded vessels and will do whatever is necessary to facilitate it.”

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