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Habib Returning to Israel After Syrian Missiles Down Israeli Drone

May 15, 1981
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U.S. special envoy Philip Habib was due to return to Israel unexpectedly today following the downing of an Israeli pilotless aircraft by a Syrian missile. The craft was on a reconnaissance mission over the Beka valley in Lebanon when it was hit. The downing was acknowledged by an Israeli army spokesman.

Habib’s return to Israel, which he left yesterday for Damascus and Beirut, was announced by Premier Menachem Begin after a meeting of the Ministerial Defense Committee. Begin said the pilotless aircraft had been hit by a SAM-6 missile, the type that Israel has insisted Syria must remove from Lebanon. Begin described the downing of the plane as “very serious” and that the incident confirmed that the missiles were a threat to Israel’s national security.

Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Zipori said after the committee meeting that he thought “the Syrians are looking for trouble. I hope everything will be settled in a diplomatic way and that’s what we are trying to do.” Habib, who was due to return to Israel tomorrow, has been conducting shuttle diplomacy between Israel, Lebanon and Syria in an effort to defuse the crisis in Lebanon.


Meanwhile, in another Mideast development, news reports from Cairo today said that President Anwar Sadat called for direct negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel. In a speech observing the 10th anniversary of the May 1971 purge of his political rivals, Sadat urged the Palestinians to form a provisional government and negotiate with Israel, like the Algerians did with France before they gained their independence.

The Egyptian leader offered to host Palestinian-Israeli talks in El Arish in Sinai. He was quoted as saying: “Anyone who has a case with Israel, let him come here and I will bring Israel to him to negotiate. El Arish is open for any negotiations.” Sadat defended his peace treaty with Israel, saying that it “is a prelude to a comprehensive Middle East peace.”

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