By Dan Williams
TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Israel has set up a mechanism to funnel aid to the Palestinians in the event of an earthquake, though its emergency relief services would not deploy throughout their territory, Israeli officials said on Tuesday.
A 5.5-magnitude quake rattled Israel and the occupied West Bank on Friday, reminding residents of their common vulnerability to the Syria-African Rift, a northern extension of Africa's Rift Valley, despite the deadlock in talks on founding an independent Palestinian state.
Given Israel's control over and inside the West Bank, it would, in the event of a major quake, host a United Nations aid distribution centre to receive relief from abroad, by air and the Mediterranean sea, for Israelis and Palestinians.
"The working assumption is that they (Palestinians) do not have the means to deal with such a disaster on their own," said Alon Rozen, director-general of Israel's Civil Defense Ministry.
The last big quake in the region, in 1927, killed hundreds of people. Such events tend to recur every 80 or 90 years.
Rozen said the need to arrange for the U.N.-mandated contingency On-Site Operations Coordination Centre (OSOCC) arose after Israel, whose home front preparations focus on incoming missiles in a future war, decided last year to devote new attention to earthquake preparedness.
"The aspect of international aid for the Palestinians was something we had not dealt with. Last September, we realized this was a shortfall," he said.
A U.N. official confirmed the OSOCC coordination with Israel. Palestinian officials had no immediate comment.
A senior Israeli military officer with home front responsibilities said his forces were on standby to provide relief to Jewish settlers in the West Bank but not to the wider-spread, more numerous Palestinian population.
"Were they to request help, I'm sure we would be happy to provide it," said the officer, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The U.N. official, who also asked not to be named, said that a Palestinian request for Israeli assistance in the West Bank would be standard procedure under such circumstances.
More challenging would be the Gaza Strip, another Palestinian territory but whose Islamist Hamas administration is deeply hostile to the Jewish state.
Israel, which keeps the enclave under naval blockade while allowing some commercial traffic across its land border, has held preliminary internal discussions on how to deliver emergency assistance, Rozen said.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Tim Pearce)