Bad weather grounded helicopters on Thursday and prevented rescuers from attempting to extract the remaining 15 Israeli trekkers who have been stranded in the remote Langtang area of Nepal since a massive earthquake struck the Himalayan state on Saturday.
It similarly hampered efforts to search for Or Asraf, who was seen in that area hours before the earthquake, but has not been heard from since.
“A massive effort is underway to locate Or Asraf, who is still considered unaccounted for,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a telephone conversation he had with his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi.
“We will do everything we can to bring him [Asraf] home,” Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said, and assured reporters at a press conference in Jerusalem that all the country’s resources had been mobilized to find Asraf, who is technically considered to be unaccounted for rather than missing.
But even as he spoke, Asraf’s father, Patrick, complained to the media that the problem was a lack of helicopters, an issue that had also delayed rescue efforts on Monday.
“The search operation that was scheduled for today did not happen because there was a shortage of helicopters,” Patrick told Israeli media.
He called on Netanyahu and Liberman to pressure the Nepalese to make helicopters available as they had in the past two days.
Asraf’s friends posted a message to Netanyahu on Facebook asking the prime minister to help him.
“At the moment there are troops in the field, but they have been unable to find him. He is there alone and it is already the sixth day,” the message said. “We’re asking for your immediate intervention.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said it was his understanding that the issue was bad weather, and that search and rescue efforts would continue on Friday.
Members of Asraf’s Golani Brigade’s elite Egoz Reconnaissance Unit and his father are in Nepal helping with the search.
Immediately after the quake, 250 Israelis were unaccounted for, but all except for Asraf have since been located.
“Both the prime minister and I are involved [with the search for Asraf] at every moment. There is no moment when we or our staff are not involved,” Liberman said.
Since Tuesday, the Foreign Ministry and the IDF, along with insurance companies Harel and Phoenix, have rescued more than 100 Israeli trekkers trapped in areas that are so remote that they can only be reached by helicopter.
“What we saw here is Israel at its best,” said Liberman. “The State of Israel that always talks about solidarity and communal responsibility. We had no choice but to act here.”
Both Liberman and Foreign Ministry Director-General Nissim Ben-Shetrit stressed that Israel operated in Nepal over the week on a dual mission – to rescue its citizens and to offer assistance to the Himalayan state and to all foreigners in the country.
Its rescue teams have combed through the rubble in Kathmandu to search for survivors from the earthquake, which has already claimed more than 6,000 lives.
One of Israel’s teams joined efforts by their peers from France and Norway to pull Krishna Kumar Khadka, 24, from a collapsed building in Kathmandu on Thursday after her relatives heard her screams.
In Kathmandu, Israel has opened a field hospital that can treat up to 200 people a day and is even equipped for births. On Wednesday, a baby was born in the hospital after doctors performed a Cesarean section on its mother.
The Foreign Ministry said it is donating the hospital to Nepal so that it can continue to treat the wounded after the Israeli medical staff leaves in a few weeks.
On Thursday, Pema Lama, 15, was pulled from the ruins of the Kathmandu’s Hilton Hotel and was recovering at the Israeli field hospital.
Doctors said they were amazed he was making such a speedy recovery.
Hundreds of onlookers cheered Nepal’s Armed Police Force as they extracted Lama to safety, a rare moment of joy for a country struggling to cope with the disaster.
Lama said he was completely taken by surprise and was eating on the first floor of the building when the quake struck.
“I got hit on my chin and when I tried to come out I was trapped,” he said from his bed at the field hospital.
A medical worker who was at the scene said they saw police drilling for hours to remove mounds of debris before they could pull Lama free.
In Jerusalem, Liberman thanked his ministry and the IDF, as well as private medical services such as Magen David Adom and United Hatzalah, for working cooperatively together in Nepal.
Earthquake assistance to Nepal will continue for many months, he said.
Israel has promised the Nepalese government that it would rebuild one of its destroyed villages, and it will help remove the rubble and then build new infrastructure and homes, Liberman said.
There is also a serious problem with clean drinking water in Nepal, he added.
Ben-Shetrit said that Israel had done something similar in Turkey.
“Every advanced nation has an obligation to help others who are suffering from natural disasters or because of other reasons. We have always arrived to help, in Haiti, in Japan or Turkey,” Liberman said.
“This is the most effective kind of diplomacy.”
Nepal has very friendly relations with Israel, he said, adding, “if we can help, we have an obligation to help.”
“No other country did as much as Israel in assisting Nepal,” he said.
“We tried to help everyone,” he added. “You have to understand the conditions there, people are without food and water.”
In his conversation with Modi, Netanyahu thanked the Indian prime minister for making helicopters available to rescue the stranded Israeli trekkers and for allowing Israeli planes to land in India.
Liberman expressed appreciation for China’s and India’s willingness to permit Israel to rent helicopters for the search and rescue effort of its nationals. He also thanked Nepal, which had made some of its military helicopters available as well, for its cooperation in the rescue of Israeli citizens.
Separately, Israel has yet to find a solution for the Israeli parents awaiting the birth of their babies through a surrogacy program in Nepal.Reuters contributed to this report.
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