Israeli Group Determined to Send Aid to Quake-Stricken Iran

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - An Israeli humanitarian aid group is determined to send help to earthquake-stricken Iran despite an Iranian government statement that the Islamic republic would accept help from everywhere in the world but Israel.

The death toll in Friday's massive earthquake, which leveled the southern Iranian city of Bam and surrounding areas, continued to rise on Monday.

More than 25,000 bodies have been recovered from the rubble left from the quake, which hit before dawn and caught most people still asleep in their beds. Officials fear the number of dead could rise to 30,000. Another 10,000 people have been hospitalized, officials have said.

Emergency aid, rescue teams with specially trained sniffer dogs and equipment have been pouring into Iran, including from the U.S.

A U.S. Air National Guard C-130 Hercules landed in the regional capital of Kerman on Sunday, delivering 20 pallets of humanitarian aid and another five pallets of medical supplies, surgical equipment, food and purified water.

The flight was the first American plane to land in Iran since the end of the 1981 hostage crisis. Washington severed ties with Tehran over that crisis, when militants seized the U.S. Embassy there and took staff members hostage in 1979.

Interior Minister Abdolvahed Mousavi Lari was quoted as saying that Iran had received American aid because his country considered the U.S. to be a legitimate government but would not receive Israeli aid because Israel is what he called a "force of occupation" in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Earlier, Iranian Interior Ministry spokesman Jahanbakhsh Khanjani said that "all kinds of humanitarian aid from all countries and international organizations" were welcome - "with the exception of the Zionist regime," he said in reference to Israel.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom offered Israeli condolences to the Iranian people in a statement.

"The government and people of Israel feel the pain of this human tragedy facing the Iranian people, and despite all the differences of opinion, at these moments, a mobilization of the entire international community is needed to help the injured and the families of the victims," Shalom said.

Jenny Perelis-Barak said that the apparent Iranian rejection would not stop the Israeli humanitarian aid organization Latet from searching for ways to send aid to the Iranians.

Latet is still checking what kind of aid is most needed and whether or not the group could send a delegation to Iran or just send supplies through another organization, said Perelis-Barak, communications and media director.

"The people who died [there] or who were injured are human beings...we don't think they are to blame for [the attitudes] of the government," said Perelis-Barak in a telephone interview.

Perelis-Barak rejected the notion that there were any political motives behind her organization's offer, saying their duty was to help those in distress as human beings.

Since Latet was founded in 1996, the organization whose name is the Hebrew word for "to give" has sent 17 delegations to help with humanitarian needs in disasters in such places as Turkey, India, the Congo and Malawi, Perelis-Barak said.

On Sunday, Latet received a few dozen phone calls and "very warm reactions" from Israelis who wanted to donate to the Iranians, Perelis-Barak added.

Nevertheless, Latet is still checking to see if the aid would be accepted and not stopped along the way, in which case the organization would abandon the project, Perelis-Barak said. "It seems from our sources they do want it," she added.

Iranian expert Menashe Amir, who heads Israel Radio's Farsi (Persian) language radio service, which broadcasts daily news into Iran, said he had "no doubt" that the Iranian people would themselves accept aid from Israel.

During the phone-in section of his program on Sunday, Amir said he received calls from Iranians responding positively to the Israeli offer of help.

"Most of the people who talked in the program thanked [Israel] warmly for offering help and criticized harshly the Iranian [regime for refusing it]," Amir said.

Some of the callers to the radio program, Amir said, told listeners not to send money to Iran because it is a rich country and the money would not make it to the people but could instead be funneled into the Palestinian militant cause.

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