Sri Lankan officials denied reports this week that their country had refused tsunami aid from Israel. The reports triggered criticism of Sri Lanka by the official Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano for declining Israeli assistance because it would have been furnished by the Israeli military.
Compounding the problem, a faulty translation by Catholic World News had led its Web site to run a story saying the Vatican newspaper had criticized Israel for not providing help to tsunami victims in Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankan government, citing an overwhelming international response in the form of supplies and personnel, said it was unable to accommodate Israel’s offer of a 150-member rescue and relief team. Sri Lanka later accepted 10 Israeli medical experts.
Media reports had suggested that the sight of Israeli army uniforms might upset some local residents, particularly those in countries with a large Muslim population. About 7 percent of Sri Lanka’s population is Muslim, and most live along the east coast where the tsunami struck.
A spokesman for the Israeli Consulate in New York said the Sri Lankan ambassador to the United States, Devinda Subasinghe, contacted Daniel Ayalon, Israel’s U.S. ambassador, to deny that his country refused Israeli help.
Sri Lanka and Israel have “close diplomatic relations,” according to a statement by the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington. The Sri Lanka Embassy in Tel Aviv has been functioning since October 2000; Israel’s embassy in New Delhi, India, is also accredited to Sri Lanka.
Subasinghe noted that representatives of his country and Israel attended a ceremony at a synagogue in Washington Saturday night as a “display of solidarity between the two embassies in light of the misinformation that was spread.”
An Israeli Consulate spokesman said Sri Lankan officials on Wednesday were expected to reiterate that their country had never turned down Israeli aid and offer their gratitude to Israel as well as Americans who have made donations to the relief effort.
Israel sent to Sri Lanka more than 80 tons of medicine, tens of thousands of dollars worth of food, water and tents, nine doctors, and a portable kitchen able to provide 1,000 hot meals daily.Israel also sent help to Thailand, including 13 doctors, three nurses, a team of psychologists, tens of thousands of dollars worth of medicine, thousands of body bags and 19 forensic experts.
The Jewish state also had offered help to India, but India declined all outside assistance and has provided monetary aid to other countries affected by the tsunami.India and Sri Lanka reportedly are among Israel’s largest arms customers.
Predominantly Muslim Indonesia, hardest hit by the tsunami, has not requested Israeli aid, although Israel is said to be ready to provide assistance if asked.