The Foreign Ministry on Thursday publicly vented its frustration at Ethiopian authorities over delays in the identification of two Israelis who were killed in a plane crash in the country earlier in the week.
An Ethiopian Airlines flight crashed Sunday shortly after taking off from the capital, Addis Ababa, killing 157 people, including Israelis Shimon Re’em and Avraham Matsliah.
“Unfortunately, appeals to Ethiopian authorities [including a phone call between the prime minister and the prime minister of Ethiopia, and appeals by many other countries at the most senior levels] are not, for the time being, bringing the long-awaited results,” the ministry said in a statement.
“We are attentive to the pain of the families, but the responsibility for the situation, in which the work of identifying the bodies is not being made possible at this stage, is not dependent on Israeli entities but on decisions by the local government. They are the ones taking the decisions. We will continue to act with all our power in order to identify the victims as soon as possible.”
Israel’s consul to Ethiopia, Opher Dach, said ZAKA rescue and recovery specialists flew to Addis Ababa to assist local authorities in locating the remains of the Israelis.
“The Foreign Ministry embraces the families of the deceased and is doing everything in order to help them,” the ministry noted. “The embassy in Addis Ababa is fully mobilized, day and night, in helping the representatives of the families and the Zaka delegation, and so is the ministry headquarters in Jerusalem.”
“Big families, a lot of people and the [entire] Israeli nation is waiting for these remains and we will not leave Ethiopia until we find the remains to bury them,” said Moshi Biton who arrived in the country to assist in identifying the remains of his brother Shimon Re’em who died in the crash.
“Because if not, they will stay missing for the rest of [our] life and we cannot do that in our religion,” Biton said.
On Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also foreign minister, spoke to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and Israeli officials in Africa and Jerusalem were in contact with Ethiopian authorities about granting access to Israel’s ZAKA, which retrieves fatalities after accidents and attacks.
According to the Associated Press very few remains are left of the victims following the plane’s fiery crash.
An airline spokesman said Wednesday some remains had been found and were in a freezer awaiting the forensic DNA work needed for identifications. The dead came from 35 countries.
On Thursday it was no longer clear how long that work, once estimated at five days or more, would take. Israel’s consul to Ethiopia, Opher Dach, suggested the remains would be sent to a laboratory in Britain.
Some relatives of victims who arrived at the scene of the crash expressed frustration, saying authorities were not sharing the information they badly needed.
Some Muslim families fretted, as according to their religion a body must be buried as soon as possible.
Many gathered at the rural, dusty crash site outside Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.
Some families, including that of the flight’s senior pilot, Capt. Yared Getachew, came bearing large framed photographs of the dead. In one, a victim wore a graduate’s cap and gown, a source of immense pride.
Others arriving wore black T-shirts printed with a photo in remembrance. They held sticks of incense, the flames flaring in the wind.
One man held a tiny, torn scrap of document showing a photo of one of the dead.
In the background, searchers carrying large clear plastic bags continued to move slowly through the rubble, looking for more.
Even at an airline briefing for families in Addis Ababa some tearful relatives stormed out, demanding more.
The airline, overwhelmed with requests, announced it would take no more questions from reporters and would post any developments on social media and its website.