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Israel (Attacked British Aircraft)

Volume 464: debated on Wednesday 11 May 1949

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will publish in the OFFICIAL REPORT the protest sent to the Israeli authorities when British fighters were attacked over Egypt on 7th January, 1949; what inquiry there has been into the charge that Spitfires used by the Jewish Air Force carried certain markings similar to those of the British Fighter Squadron in that area; what compensation is being claimed from the State of Israel; and what is the state of the latter negotiations.

I am publishing in the OFFICIAL REPORT a statement issued in London shortly after the five R.A.F. aircraft were attacked and shot down. His Majesty's Representatives in Haifa and at the United Nations were instructed to communicate this statement respectively to the Israeli Government and to the Israeli Representative at Lake Success and to make a strong protest, stating that His Majesty's Government reserved their rights with regard to compensation. His Majesty's Government also requested the United Nations Acting Mediator to furnish a report on the incident and have since urged Dr. Bunche to complete this report as soon as possible. The question of compensation has not meanwhile been raised with the Israeli Government and there have been no negotiations on this subject.

Can the Foreign Secretary answer that part of my Question which asks whether any explanation has been received regarding the Government's charge that the Jewish Spitfires were carrying red spinners, as I believe they are called, in imitation of a British Fighter squadron stationed in the area.

An R.A.F. Court of Inquiry was held to investigate this incident and reported that the Israeli fighters were Spitfires with the British type of camouflage and red air-screw spinners similar to those of No. 208 Squadron. A full statement was made on this subject to the House by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air on 17th March.

In view of the fact that there is now an accredited representative of the Israeli Government, will the right hon. Gentleman take the matter up through diplomatic channels rather than with the United Nations?

I am very anxious to get this report, which was called for at the time, from Dr. Bunche. I think that the report ought to be presented, and then I shall proceed through diplomatic channels.

Following is the statement:

Statement issued in London on 8th January of the circumstances in which five British aircraft were shot down over Egyptian territory on 7th January, 1949.

During the last few days, R.A.F. aircraft from the Canal Zone have been carrying out reconnaissances to ascertain the depth and scale of Jewish incursion into Egyptian territory. These reconnaissances have been strictly confined to the Egyptian side of the frontier.

On the morning of 7th January, two formations, one of four R.A.F. Spitfires, and one of a single Mosquito escorted by four Tempests, which were on reconnaissance inside the Egyptian Frontier, were attacked by Jewish fighters and the four Spitfires failed to return from the mission. A few hours later, a further air reconnaissance force, despatched to obtain information as to the fate of the missing Spitfires, was also attacked by Jewish aircraft and one Tempest has been reported missing.

The R.A.F. aircraft in question had strict orders not to cross the frontier into

Palestine. The pilot who was the leader of the Spitfires reported he was attacked 15 miles inside Egyptian territory and compelled to bale out. He was wounded and was picked up by a Bedouin near Bir Gabr Amir approximately 15 miles West of Rafah.

Our aircraft had been under strict orders to avoid combat. In view of these unprovoked attacks, our aircraft have now been instructed to regard as hostile any Jewish aircraft encountered over Egyptian territory.