In a perfectly coordinated three-pronged attack, Israel Defence Army forces and IZL troops conquered Malha village about a mile and a half to the south-west of Jerusalem on Tuesday night.
The operation began with the heavy shelling of Ain Karem and Beit Safafa to the west and east respectively while heavy machine-guns in newly-won positions at Khirbet Masmil and Khirbet el Hamama poured heavy fire at Legionnaires in the valley below.
Maliha itself was silent in the bright moonlight, and not a shot was fired at it until the moon was low and the three columns had advanced upon their unsuspecting objective. To the west, one long silent column took the height dominating the road leading from Ein Karem, to ensure against help coming from that quarter, while the eastern column headed for the outskirts of the village, its objective: the schoolhouse.
From there, it was to swing around and meet the central column for a combined onslaught on the main base in the village, the mosque, surrounded by four concrete fortified buildings.
Beit Safafa was shelled by a Sixth Brigade Mortar Company in Jerusalem, and Mar Elias was pounded from Jewish gun positions further east. By the time Jewish forces stormed their objective, the Arabs were completely bewildered as to just what point was being attacked and their spotty opposition was ineffectual. It was concentrated in the mosque and in the school.
The two buildings clearly showed signs of the heavy fighting as dawn broke upon the Jewish forces in full occupation of the village and entrenching themselves for the counterattack which never came.
A Kilometer away, from the village itself, an Arab Legion armoured car fired burst after burst from the machine gun in an attempt to break up the western column advancing on the height, but Jewish mortar bombs, probing the area, kept it in check.
Garrison in Flight
Earlier, one of the three advancing columns had turned south to capture Er Kas, a strategic height south of Malha. The Arab garrison of Malha, which consisted of one company of Trans-Jordan irregulars, was soon put to flight, but some stayed behind to fight a rear-guard action. By 9.30 in the morning, the village and a good deal of military equipment were in Jewish hands.
Jewish casualties were relatively light – one killed and five wounded. Enemy losses are unknown. With the conquest of Malha and the isolation of Ein Karem and the advance of Jewish position a kilometre closer to the Egyptian line Israel forces are in a position to consolidate the entire southern front. Malha, now Jewish, prevents any flanking attempts on the part of the Arabs against Suba which was taken on Monday. And any plan the Arabs had to choke off the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv roads by sealing the way at Suba has been nipped in the bud. At the same time one more Arab battery emplacement has been eliminated from the Beit Hakerem-Bait Vegan front.
It was from Malha, too, that the Egyptians supplied reinforcements during the Kfar Etzion battle in the middle of May, and to the Latrun front at the beginning of June.