Jewish Agency and Ministries at Odds Over Sochi Visit

SOCHI, Russia - There has been a great deal of tension over the past few days between the Jewish Agency and the Absorption Ministry, on the one hand, and the Foreign Ministry, on the other, concerning the trip to Russia for the families of last week's air disaster victims. Foreign Ministry officials have taken exception to the fact that the visit was not coordinated with them, saying that they heard about it only via the media.

The ministry officials have also criticized remarks allegedly voiced against the Russians by members of the Israeli delegation to the Black Sea resort of Sochi and relatives of the victims. The officials say that the remarks could harm relations between the two countries and insist that Israel has received the full cooperation of the Russian authorities.

Jewish Agency officials, for their part, say that the Foreign Ministry showed no interest in helping the families of the victims. The agency and the Absorption Ministry officials are angry that they are not being updated about the rescue operation and the identification of the bodies and are, therefore, coming under criticism from the families of the victims.

Representatives of the two ministries and the Jewish Agency met Monday in an effort to defuse the tension.

It was agreed yesterday that the agency will cover the costs of the stay in Russia for family members who do not plan to return to Israel tomorrow. Some family members are anxious to remain in Sochi until the search operations that the Russians have mounted are over. Others are keen to visit relatives living in Russia.

Meanwhile the Russian rescue team, which is trying to locate more bodies, is continuing its search, despite the fact that it is most unlikely that more bodies will be found. According to Alexander Sultanov, head of the Middle Eastern division at the Russian Foreign Ministry, 10 ships and a number of helicopters are involved in the search. Sultanov is a member of the committee that is looking into the cause of the crash; he believes the conclusions of the investigation will be published only in several months.

The main theory remains that the plane was brought down by a Ukrainian missile; due to the uncertainty surrounding this theory, various rumors that are circulating among the families of the crash victims. Some of them believe that a Russian helicopter intercepted the plane for unknown reasons and that the Russians are trying to whitewash the affair.