Pakistan Accepts Israeli Aid, Presents List of Items

Pakistan welcomes offer of aid following devastating earthquake, but says it must come through third party.

Pakistan accepted Israel's offer of aid, albeit through a third party, on Saturday following the massive earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people one week ago.

Pakistan gave Jerusalem a list of items it needs, including tents, blankets, plastic sheets for protection against the rain and for collecting bodies, water-purification equipment and dry-food packages such as biscuits.

However, Pakistan also said that the aid would have to be channeled through the United Nations, the Red Cross or donated to a relief fund.

Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said since the two countries do not have diplomatic relations it could not receive aid directly from Israel.

"We have established the president's relief fund and everyone is free to contribute to it. If Israel was to contribute, that's fine, we would accept it," Aslam told The Associated Press.

Earlier, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mark Regev said Israel offered the aid through direct channels with Pakistan, and will decide Sunday what teams and equipment to dispatch to the disaster zone.

Regev played down the diplomatic significance of the aid effort.

"At the moment, everyone is talking about how we can help hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis in the area of destruction," he said. "There is a clear international effort to help Pakistan, and Israel wants to be part of that."

American Jewish organizations based in New York plan to raise funds for reconstruction efforts in Pakistan.

Earlier this week, American Jewish Congress Chairman Jack Rosen said that Pakistan signaled its willingness to accept aid from Israel and American Jewish sources.

Rosen said he personally spoke with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf by telephone, who confirmed his government's position to Rosen.

The government offered assistance immediately after last week's quake but a spokesman said it only received word from Islamabad on Friday that Israeli aid would be accepted.

Israel - which has sent rescue teams to Turkey and Mexico to assist in evacuation efforts after earthquakes struck those countries - sent its offer of aid to Pakistan through "official channels" and the United Nations, said a senior government official.

"The fact that there is a channel of communication is a sign of the times," the FT quoted Foreign Ministry official Mark Regev as saying.

Allowing Israel to assist in the rescue efforts would be the latest sign that relations between the two countries are warming.

Israel and Pakistan - the second-largest Muslim country - have no official relations, but the two countries' foreign ministers met last month for the first time.

Warming of Jewish-Pakistani tiesMusharraf told U.S. Jewish leaders last month that granting the Palestinians statehood would help stop Islamic terrorism and lead to full diplomatic ties between Pakistan and Israel.

Speaking to the American Jewish Congress at a groundbreaking dinner that opened with the sharing of bread and Koranic prayers, Musharraf, the guest of honor, said his Muslim country had "no direct conflict or dispute with Israel" but that Pakistanis had deep sympathy for Palestinian aspirations for a separate state.

"Israel must come to terms with geopolitical realities and allow justice to prevail for the Palestinians," he said, describing a Palestinian settlement as the key to security for Israel and an end to Middle East terrorism.

"As the peace process progresses towards the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, we will take further steps towards normalization and cooperation, looking to full diplomatic relations," Musharraf said to lengthy applause.

Musharraf also said he welcomed the Gaza disengagement and that he hoped Israel would soon withdraw from the West Bank as well.

Jewish leaders in New York stressed the importance of the AJC event to Jewish-Muslim relations. The event, which some 300 people attended, came after Musharraf's September 1 meeting with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom in Turkey, the first formal high-level contact between Israel and Pakistan.

"Pervez Musharraf represents an important and large Muslim country whose influence reaches beyond the circle of Muslim states," a prominent American Jewish official told Haaretz. "The significance of his appearance before a Jewish audience cannot be overstated."

Contacts between the AJC and Musharraf began a few months ago, mediated by prominent personalities in Pakistan and the United States. Musharraf accepted the invitation to speak to the organization last May, when he met with AJC officials in Islamabad.