* Weekend tremor reminds old enemies of common plight
* Military relief available to PA on request - Israel
By Dan Williams
TEL AVIV, May 15 Israel has set up a mechanism
to funnel aid to the Palestinians in the event of an earthquake,
though its emergency relief services would not deploy throughout
their territory, Israeli officials said on Tuesday.
A 5.5-magnitude quake rattled Israel and the occupied West
Bank on Friday, reminding residents of their common
vulnerability to the Syria-African Rift, a northern extension of
Africa's Rift Valley, despite the deadlock in talks on founding
an independent Palestinian state.
Given Israel's control over and inside the West Bank, it
would, in the event of a major quake, host a United Nations aid
distribution centre to receive relief from abroad, by air and
the Mediterranean sea, for Israelis and Palestinians.
"The working assumption is that they (Palestinians) do not
have the means to deal with such a disaster on their own," said
Alon Rozen, director-general of Israel's Civil Defence Ministry.
The last big quake in the region, in 1927, killed hundreds
of people. Such events tend to recur every 80 or 90 years.
Rozen said the need to arrange for the U.N.-mandated
contingency On-Site Operations Coordination Centre (OSOCC) arose
after Israel, whose home front preparations focus on incoming
missiles in a future war, decided last year to devote new
attention to earthquake preparedness.
"The aspect of international aid for the Palestinians was
something we had not dealt with. Last September, we realised
this was a shortfall," he said.
A U.N. official confirmed the OSOCC coordination with
Israel. Palestinian officials had no immediate comment.
A senior Israeli military officer with home front
responsibilities said his forces were on standby to provide
relief to Jewish settlers in the West Bank but not to the
wider-spread, more numerous Palestinian population.
"Were they to request help, I'm sure we would be happy to
provide it," said the officer, speaking on condition of
The U.N. official, who also asked not to be named, said that
a Palestinian request for Israeli assistance in the West Bank
would be standard procedure under such circumstances.
More challenging would be the Gaza Strip, another
Palestinian territory but whose Islamist Hamas administration is
deeply hostile to the Jewish state.
Israel, which keeps the enclave under naval blockade while
allowing some commercial traffic across its land border, has
held preliminary internal discussions on how to deliver
emergency assistance, Rozen said.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Tim Pearce)