Eight Israelis Missing After Cataclysmic Quake Strikes Haiti; IDF to Send Search and Rescue Team

Almost 36 hours after a cataclysmic earthquake killed thousands of people and left thousands more homeless in Haiti, Israel's Foreign Ministry was still working to locate the daughter of late peace activist Abie Nathan and seven other Israelis who were known to be on the Caribbean island and have not contacted their families.

Family and friends were awaiting news yesterday of Sharona Elsaieh, 58, Nathan's daughter. She has lived in Haiti for nearly 30 years with her husband, a Haitian man whose family is originally from Bethlehem.

A woman and her 9-year-old son are also missing.

Elazar Amashi spent yesterday glued to the Internet after news broke of the earthquake in Haiti, where his son Segev lives with his ex-wife, Brigette.

"The hardest thing is the helplessness," said Amashi, who met Brigette in the 1990s during an agricultural seminar. Amashi had been in regular phone contact with Segev and Brigette, who live near Port-au-Prince, and has visited them twice. The last time they spoke was on December 25, on Brigette and Segev's shared birthday.

"I want to stay strong and optimistic," Amashi said.

Another Israeli woman is also missing. Her name has not been released to the public, but the Foreign Ministry is in touch with her family.

The Foreign Ministry prepared a rescue team yesterday for departure to the disaster-stricken country.

The rescue team includes elite Israel Defense Forces engineers and medical personnel ready to set up field hospitals, the Israeli consulate in New York reported.

The team is waiting for the Foreign Ministry to give it the green light to leave for Haiti. The Foreign Ministry, in turn, is waiting for word from the U.S. government, which is coordinating international aid efforts.

The quake, which registered 7 on the Richter scale and devastated Port-au-Prince and its surroundings, also destroyed Haiti's international airport, and the Israel Air Force is waiting for details on the condition of the runway before allowing the rescue team to go.

The first Israeli team will include seven members - five experts from the Home Front Commmand and two Foreign Ministry officials - who will fly to Miami via Newark to evaluate the situation.

The IDF is preparing to send two groups of about 50 people each. The first team is expected to include Home Front Command rescue personnel, who began to prepare their equipment yesterday morning, and are awaiting departure orders from IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. The second team will be able to set up a field hospital capable of performing complex surgery.

"If we leave in the next few hours, there is a very good chance to save lives," said Home Front Command chief Shalom Ben-Aryeh. The unit's operations depend on its ability to bring mechanical equipment to rescue victims from the ruins.

Meanwhile, Jewish residents of the Dominican Republic are preparing to help, the Chabad Web site reported. Rabbi Shimon Pelman, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Dominican Republic, said he was attempting to ascertain the whereabouts of several of Jewish families and visiting Israelis in Haiti, which comprises the western half of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Although most phone lines were down in Port-au-Prince, Pelman said news reports and contacts with the Israeli government indicated that most of the Jewish community there appeared to have emerged from the quake unscathed.

"Right now, we're looking into the possibility of going over there ourselves," Pelman said.