(Adds Palestinian official’s comment)
By Dan Williams
TEL AVIV, May 15 (Reuters) - Israel said on Tuesday it had set up a mechanism to get aid to the Palestinians in the event of a major earthquake.
A 5.5-magnitude quake rattled Israel and the occupied West Bank on Friday, reminding residents of their vulnerability to the Syria-African Rift, a northern extension of Africa’s Rift Valley.
“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.
Given Israel’s control of the West Bank, it would, in the event of a major quake, host a United Nations aid distribution centre to receive relief from abroad for Israelis and Palestinians.
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 Israel 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.”
A U.N. official confirmed there was coordination with Israel, but the Palestinians said they had yet to be consulted.
“We asked the United Nations years ago to create safe corridors for receiving foreign aid in case of catastrophes,” Major-General Ahmed Rezek, head of the Palestinian civil emergency services, said in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
A senior Israeli military officer said his forces were on standby to provide relief to Jewish settlers in the West Bank but not to the much bigger Palestinian population.
“Were they to request help, I‘m sure we would be happy to provide it,” said the officer, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The U.N. official, who asked not to be named, said 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 whose Islamist Hamas administration is 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.
Talks on founding an independent Palestinian state are deadlocked.
Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Editing by Tim Pearce and Janet Lawrence