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Exchange of Fire on Suez Canal when Egyptians Attempt to Enter Northern Passage

January 31, 1968
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Five Israeli soldiers were wounded and one Israeli and two Egyptian tanks were destroyed in an exchange of fire that erupted today at noon along the Suez Canal.

The clash occurred when Israeli forces fired “warning shots” at an Egyptian launch attempting to enter the northern sector of the Canal from Lake Timsah to carry out what the Israelis said was an “illegal survey.” Israel has refused to agree to Egypt’s announced plan to begin preliminary work on clearing the northern section of the Canal. Under last June’s cease-fire agreement, neither side may navigate or use the Canal for any purpose without the other’s agreement. Israel has agreed to permit clearance of the Canal’s southern sector to free 15 merchant ships that have been stranded there since the Canal was closed by Egypt last June.

United Nations observers in the Suez Canal area arranged a cease-fire to go into effect at 12:30 p.m. local time but Egyptian batteries did not desist from firing until 1:15 p.m., a military spokesman reported today.

Egyptian forces opened up with small arms and artillery aimed at Israeli units in the Kantara region after Israelis fired warning shots at two Egyptian boats attempting to enter the northern sector of the Canal. This occurred shortly before noon, the military spokesman said, after it appeared that Egypt had second thoughts about violating the non-shipping agreement with Israel. Earlier in the morning, an Egyptian launch entering the Canal’s northern sector withdrew after warning shots from the Israeli side.


But apparently the Egyptians were bent on testing Israel’s response to their announced intention of starting clearing operations in the northern portion of the Canal. Israel had earlier warned Egypt in writing, through Lt. Gen. Odd Bull, chief of the UN cease-fire observers corps, that she would not permit unilateral operations in the northern sector, Israel agreed to clearing the southern end of the Canal in order to free 15 merchant ships stranded there since last June.

During today’s clash, Egyptian units opened fire on Israeli units in Kantara and, ten minutes later, at another point along the Canal near Dar Sueir. Israelis returned the fire, knocking out two Egyptian tanks. Five Israeli soldiers were wounded in the clash.

Israelis and Jordanians exchanged fire across the Jordan River this afternoon in the vicinity of Um Church, a military spokesman announced. He said the fire was opened by the Jordanians and returned by Israeli units. No casualties were reported.

An Israeli patrol intercepted an armed band of Arab terrorists near Ashdot Yaacov in the Belsan Valley last night but then had to fight off a Jordanian attack launched presumably to cover the terrorists’ retreat, a military spokesman reported today. A rifle, a mine and mortar shells were found in the battle area.

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