Israel sends earthquake aid to New Zealand; 2 Israelis still missing


SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) — At least two Israelis are still missing since a devastating earthquake struck New Zealand.

Israel agreed Sunday to send to send water purification equipment and temporary shelters to Christchurch, which was ravaged by an earthquake on Feb. 22. The official death toll has risen to 147, with more than 50 still missing.

Israeli backpackers Ofer Levy and Gabi Ingel, both from Rehovot, were believed to be in Christchurch when the quake struck.

"There are two missing Israelis in New Zealand who are feared dead," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting. "We are working with the New Zealand government to locate them and provide New Zealand with aid.

"They have asked for certain equipment and the foreign minister will speak with them today in order to determine which supplies will be sent. We want to speed up efforts to trace the two missing Israelis and I shall speak with New Zealand’s prime minister today to achieve this."

Among the dead is Ofer Mizrachi, 23, from Kibbutz Magal near Haifa, whose body was officially identified Sunday and is being flown back to Israel for burial.

He was in a car with three other Israelis when it was crushed by falling debris. The three others escaped and arrived back in Israel on Feb. 24.

As of Feb. 26, there were still nine Israeli citizens known to have been traveling in New Zealand at the time of the earthquake but who have not been located. Emergency centers monitoring the situation have been set up at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem and at the Israeli Embassy in Wellington, according to Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand, Shemi Tzur.

All members of the Canterbury Hebrew Congregation have been accounted for, past president Bettina Wallace said. The damages to the synagogue are likely able to be repaired, she said. Some members have lost their homes and all of their belongings.

A message on the synagogue’s website reads: “Synagogue closed until further notice. All events postponed.”

Bnei Akiva in New Zealand has begun an appeal to raise funds for the beleaguered community.

Meanwhile, the Jewish community of Queensland, Australia, which was hit recently by devastating floods, has offered to house any victims of the earthquake.

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