Heros welcome given rescuers upon their return from Nairobi

Netanyahu praised the members of the rescue team for their sterling efforts in saving lives and for the "great honor" they had brought to Israel and the IDF.

He said their mission in Nairobi was " in my eyes one of the basic foundations of the IDF — to help the victims and the weak in times of distress."

Netanyahu said the rescuers had also helped in the "difficult and determined" war against world terrorism.

"It was not just our war, or that of the U.S., Kenya or Tanzania, but that of the whole democratic world," said Netanyahu

He noted that the rescue operation had repaid an old debt to Kenya and its people, who allowed Israeli air force planes to refuel at Nairobi during the Entebbe rescue mission in 1976.

Japhet Getugi, senior representative of the Kenyan Embassy, said at the reception that there were no appropriate words "to convey the anguish and bitterness of the Kenyan people at the loss of lives of loved ones for no crime of their making.

"We condemn in the strongest possible manner the acts of international terrorism, wherever or whenever they occur," said Getugi.

He expressed the hope that the international community would assist in helping to catch the perpetrators of "this cowardly act."

Getugi also praised the work of the IDF rescue team, saying its efforts had earned them international recognition and admiration.

"He who saves a life saves an entire world. Long live Kenyan-Israeli relations," he said.

One notable absence at the ceremony was Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai.

Mordechai's spokesman, Avi Benayahu, said that Mordechai only learned of the ceremony Thursday morning and was unable to attend.

Walker said President Clinton, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and the American people also expressed their deep appreciation for the work of the rescuers.

Maj.-Gen. Gabi Ophir won a lasting round of applause when he said he was proud to command the men and women wearing the yellow helmets of the rescue unit.

The 170 members of the rescue team, including reservists, regular soldiers, doctors and paramedics from the medical corps and seven dogs specially trained to locate people under debris, arrived in Nairobi and started their work just 23 hours after being given the order to assist.

The team, using specialized equipment and knowledge built up over the years, rescued three survivors and recovered 96 bodies from the debris of the buildings destroyed in the car bomb blast in the Kenyan capital.

Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi met with the rescue team for a courtesy call before they left for Israel.

Moi expressed deep appreciation for their work and asked that his wishes be conveyed to Netanyahu and the country.

"The Kenyan people and I are full of appreciation for the IDF and Israel," he said.

He said the mutual relations between the two countries, which have always been special, will be even better now and will be expressed in broadening cooperation with Israel in new fields.

President Ezer Weizman sent a telegram to Mordechai, congratulating him on the rescue mission.

"The military delegation is worthy of the highest praise, for their courage, their achievements, their leadership qualities, and for the determination to carry out their mission which they displayed during their time in Kenya.

"The team has raised the standing of Israel throughout the world," he wrote.