'Quake victims no Mossad agents'

Israeli Ambassador Shemi Tzur has dismissed as "science fiction" suspicions that agents of Israel's secret service, Mossad, had been caught up in the Christchurch earthquake in February.

Mr Tzur, who is based in Canberra but flew into Christchurch hours after the earthquake, said he was "shocked and upset" that New Zealand's intelligence agencies would have such suspicions.

The three friends of Ofer Mizrahi, who was killed instantly when the van the four were in was crushed by falling concrete in the central city, had left New Zealand so hurriedly because they were shocked and crying and wanted to go home.

"I drove his three friends to the airport so they could go home. They were shocked and crying, they were just talking about their friends.

"To suggest anything else, someone has been feeding you science fiction.

"These were youngsters holidaying in your beautiful country ... we encourage our young people to visit New Zealand."

Mr Tzur said he was aware that Mr Mizrahi was found to be carrying more than one passport when identification checks were being made of the earthquake victims – "I was handed a parcel of his effects and it did contain more than one passport" – but dual citizenship was common in Israel because of difficulties over the use of Israeli passports in some other countries.

He said he had not been told anything about Mr Mizrahi being found with five or six passports and to suggest that he and his friends were anything other than young tourists made him upset.

It had not been raised by New Zealand authorities, he said.

Asked if he considered it unusual that a tribute page to Mr Mizrahi posted on Facebook had attracted only five "likes" in more than four months after the earthquake, Mr Tzur said different cultures reacted to tragedy in different ways.

To questions about the two urban search and rescue teams from Israel that had arrived in Christchurch and were refused permission to enter the earthquake red zone to help the search, Mr Tzur said they had been sent by the parents of the two Israeli backpackers who also died in the quake.

Israeli families reacted that way when their children needed help anywhere in the world, often because it was demanded by insurance companies.

"If they were later found inside the red zone no-one brought that to our attention.

"I know they were very upset and angry at being turned away. They appealed to me and I spoke to the police, who were very apologetic but firm that they could not join the search."

A third group of Israelis, a victim identification unit sent by the Israeli government, had been welcomed as soon as it arrived and worked alongside groups from other countries helping to identify the earthquake victims, Mr Tzur said. Members of the unit had a lot of experience and were asked to stay on helping for 10 days.

"I am very upset that intelligence agencies are telling you they had suspicions of any of these people.

"Yes, there was some regrettable history of Mossad involvement in New Zealand, in 2004, and they have apologised for that and we have put it beyond us. Now, we are moving forward."

The Southland Times