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Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Israeli Group Biggest Civilian Aid Contributor to Sri Lanka

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - The Sri Lankan government reportedly refused to accept a large Israeli rescue and medical mission to aid tsunami victims. But even so, an Israeli group says it has contributed more civilian aid to Sri Lanka than any other country.

The Israeli humanitarian aid organization Latet (Hebrew for "to give") has already shipped 70 tons of supplies to the area, said Latet spokesperson Evia Simon. "It is the biggest amount of equipment [sent by] a civilian aid organization to Sri Lanka," said Simon.

The group has sent about $300,000 worth of supplies, including water, water-purification tablets and medicine. Latet has its own six-man team, including a doctor, on the ground in Sri Lanka to help distribute the supplies.

Latet, the first humanitarian aid agency to be established in Israel, has previously provided aid to Kosovo war victims, Ethiopian famine victims, victims of the two Turkish earthquakes and survivors of the earthquakes in El Salvador and India.

Israelis were surprised last week to hear that Sri Lanka had turned down Israel's offer to send a 150-person medical and rescue team to the country. Unofficial Israeli sources said that the Sri Lankan government refused the team's help because the unit falls under the umbrella of the Israeli army.

But the Sri Lankan ambassador to Israel, Tissa Wijeratne, denied that his government had refused the Israeli assistance and said Sri Lanka had "no objection" to the military composition of the team.

"The Sri Lankan government didn't refuse," Wijeratne said in a radio interview on Tuesday. "They wanted the Israeli government to delay the arrival of the 150-member Israeli rescue and relief team."

Wijeratne is due to meet with the Israeli Health Minister Danny Naveh later on Tuesday.