ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan on Saturday welcomed an offer of earthquake assistance from Israel but said it would have to be channeled through the United Nations, the Red Cross (search) or donated to a relief fund.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam (search) said since Pakistan does not have diplomatic relations with Israel it could not receive aid directly from the Jewish state.
That's despite a landmark meeting last month between the two countries' foreign ministers, the first such high-level contact — in response to Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip (search).
"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.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev, however, said Israel offered the aid through direct channels and that Pakistan had accepted. He said Israeli aid officials will decide on Sunday what teams and equipment to dispatch to the disaster zone.
Aslam said Pakistan mostly needed monetary assistance rather than personnel to help the relief effort, now rescue operations were coming to an end — a week after the 7.6 earthquake shattered communities in the mountainous north.
More than 60 countries have donated aid in money and kind since nearly 40,000 people were killed and millions left homeless by the quake — but an offer of aid from Israel is still diplomatically sensitive.
Pakistan, a Muslim country, has long taken a hard line against Israel. It says it would only establish full diplomatic relations with Israel after the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been resolved.
Aslam said as a member of the United Nations, Israel could contribute to a flash appeal announced by the world body and or through the International Red Cross.
The U.N. has appealed for nearly US$312 million (euro260 million), saying helicopters, heavy lifting equipment, winterized tents, field hospitals and medicine are still desperately needed.
The American Jewish Congress-Council said in the statement earlier this week that Pakistan had agreed to accept financial support and relief equipment from the council — confirmed by the Foreign Ministry on Saturday.
Last month, President Gen. Pervez Musharraf (search) addressed an interfaith conference organized by the Jewish council in New York.
"There is absolutely no problem. We are accepting assistance from American Jews," Aslam said.