BEIJING (JTA) – Two Israeli exchange students who were missing in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in China were found injured but alive.
An Israeli search team located the two women Wednesday in western China, where they had been hiking.
Ma’ayan Segev and Anat Bilu, both in their 20s, were lightly hurt when they were found at the Longxi-Hongkou National Nature Reserve in Sichuan province.
Three to five more Israelis also have been reported missing.
Segev and Bilu are studying Chinese medicine in Chengdu with an exchange program of Israel’s Reidman College of Complementary Medicine.
A delegation of the Israeli consul in Beijing was in Sichuan province to confirm their identity and make contact with any other Israelis in the area affected by the 7.8 magnitude quake.
“We are going to get them back,” Guy Kivetz, the press officer for the Israeli Embassy in Beijing, told JTA Wednesday. “We already have solid information that they are safe and sound in the village of Hongkou.”
Kivetz said he was with the delegation in Sichuan and heading to the Hongkou village in the Dujiangyan area to meet the students.
“We are going there to conduct whatever is needed from there,” he said.
Three other Israelis traveling in China, whose whereabouts during the earthquake remain unknown, have not yet contacted their families or the Foreign Ministry.
The Israeli consul and Foreign Ministry both suspect that the rest of the missing travelers have not been heard from because of difficulties in communication. Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel was cautioning patience.
“There are 100 million people in Sichuan,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “It’s not Kfar Saba. It’s going to take some time.”
On Tuesday, Israel offered to send Israeli rescue teams to China, but China has said it cannot handle an influx of foreign rescue workers at this time.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni joined other world leaders in expressing sympathy to China as the death toll continued to rise.
“Our hearts go out to the families of the victims and we pray for the speedy recovery of all the survivors,” Livni wrote in a letter to Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.
It was the largest earthquake to hit China since 1976, when 240,000 people were killed in the city of Tangshan near Beijing.
Xinhua News Agency’s death toll for the quake is approaching 15,000, with more than 25,000 still buried beneath the rubble. No foreigners have been listed among the dead.
As people all over China follow the rescue and relief efforts, small Jewish communities around the country also wait for news about the missing Israelis.
Rabbi Shalom Greenberg of Chabad-Lubavitch Shanghai said he would fly to Sichuan if needed.
Chabad, which has 22 emissaries in the country, has no location in Sichuan. But the Hong Kong Chabad center had sent two yeshiva students to lead a community seder in Chengdu, the largest city affected by the earthquake.
Greenberg said more than 100 people attended the Passover event, including professionals, students and travelers.