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IDF aid team to quake-hit Morocco on hold as Israel awaits response to offer

The Israeli military’s planned aid delegation to Morocco was on hold Saturday evening, officials involved in the effort indicated, as Moroccan officials had yet to respond to Israel’s offer of assistance after a devastating earthquake that killed over 1,000 people.

Channel 12 news said Moroccan officials were still unsure what type of aid would best serve their needs.

The Foreign Ministry was sending a team to Rabat Sunday to help Israelis in need of assistance following the temblor.

The ministry said Saturday night that it was aware of 468 Israeli citizens in the country, with 56 having yet to contact their families following the quake. There were no reports of Israeli casualties in the quake, but “we continue to try and contact all the Israelis who are in Morocco to ensure that they are safe.”

Israel’s consul in Rabat Dorit Avidani was heading to the hardest-hit Marrakesh area to get a full picture of the needs there, the ministry said.

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Israeli emergency NGO IsraAID said Saturday it was also prepared to join the relief efforts in Morocco, and planned to dispatch a delegation with aid to Marrakesh and the surrounding area. The group said its team was due to arrive in Marrakesh Sunday and had been in contact with the local Jewish community.

Earlier Saturday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered “all ministries and forces to provide assistance as necessary to the Moroccan people, including planning to send an aid delegation to the area,” a statement from his office said.

Netanyahu said, “The people of Israel extend their hands to our friends, the people of Morocco, at this difficult time and pray for their well-being. We will help in any way we can.”

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen also told his ministry and the embassy in Rabat to contact Moroccan authorities to see how Israel can be of assistance.

Residents take shelter ouside at a square following an earthquake in Marrakesh on September 9, 2023. (Fadel Senna/AFP)

Israel is a world leader in search and rescue operations and has sent delegations to assist in major quakes, including in Turkey, Mexico, and Haiti.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant spoke with his Moroccan counterpart Abdellatif Loudiyi.

“A significant part of the Abraham Accords is our commitment to stand by our partners during national crises. The State of Israel is prepared to assist the Kingdom of Morocco during this difficult time,” Gallant was quoted as saying in a statement from his office, referring to a series of US-backed normalization deals.

The minister told Loudiyi Israel was preparing to send aid teams and also offered his condolences for the hundreds of Moroccans killed in the disaster.

A man stands next to a damaged hotel after an earthquake in Moulay Brahim village outside Marrakesh, Morocco, Saturday, September 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Mosa’ab Elshamy)

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry said it was also readying to join any aid efforts, dispatching a delegation that will include doctors and nurses, along with medical equipment.

In a series of posts in Hebrew, French and English, President Isaac Herzog also expressed condolences to Morocco.

“Our hearts are with the Moroccan people,” he wrote on the social media platform X, formerly Twitter. “Israel is ready to help as needed.”

A rare, powerful earthquake struck Morocco, sending people racing from their beds into the streets and toppling buildings in mountainous villages and ancient cities not built to withstand such force. More than 1,000 people were killed, and the toll was expected to rise as rescuers struggled to reach the hardest-hit remote areas where the dead were laid to rest even as desperate efforts were underway to save those trapped.

People observe a burial prayer for people killed by an earthquake in Moulay Brahim village near Marrakesh, Morocco, Saturday, September 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Mosa’ab Elshamy)

The magnitude-6.8 quake, the biggest to hit the North African country in 120 years, sent people fleeing their homes in terror and disbelief late Friday. One man said dishes and wall hangings began raining down, and people were knocked off their feet. The enormity of the destruction came into view in the daylight.

The quake brought down walls made from stone and masonry not constructed to endure quakes, covering whole communities with rubble and leaving residents picking their way precariously through remains. Rescuers worked through the night to find survivors buried in the dusty ruins.

Morocco declared three days of national mourning, an announcement from the royal palace said.

People mourn in front of the body of a victim killed in an earthquake in Moulay Brahim, Al Haouz province, on September 9, 2023. (Fadel Senna/AFP)

Israel and Morocco signed a normalization agreement in 2020 and ties have developed swiftly since then. Netanyahu has been invited to visit.

The country is a popular tourist destination for Israelis, with many having Moroccan roots, and several were caught up in the quake.

Israel’s Arkia airlines announced it was opening an emergency telephone hotline at 052-732-3433 for Israelis who wanted to return from Morocco.

The minaret of a mosque stands behind damaged or destroyed houses following an earthquake in Moulay Brahim, Al-Haouz province, Morocco, on September 9, 2023. (Fadel Senna/AFP)

In 2004, at least 628 people were killed and 926 injured when a quake hit Al Hoceima in northeastern Morocco, and in 1960 a magnitude 6.7 quake in Agadir killed more than 12,000.

The 7.3-magnitude El Asnam earthquake in neighboring Algeria in 1980 was regionally one of the most destructive earthquakes in recent history.

It killed 2,500 people and left at least 300,000 homeless.