Israel said Sunday it plans to airlift 25 infants from quake-hit Nepal born to surrogate mothers, along with their Israeli parents, most of them homosexual couples.
Officials said Israel was sending a military delegation to offer aid and help repatriate its citizens from Nepal following the quake that has claimed more than 2,500 lives.
The foreign ministry said there were 600-700 Israelis in Nepal, as well as the 25 babies recently born in Kathmandu — four of them prematurely — to surrogate mothers from India.
Nepal has become a destination for couples seeking to have children through surrogate mothers, though the practice is controversial, with critics saying it exploits the poverty of women.
Priority for repatriation would be given to the infants and their Israeli families, interior ministry spokeswoman Sabine Hadad said, adding they would be "the first on the plane".
Foreign ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson said officials were doing "everything to bring the babies to Israel", while stressing the timing of their return was subject to health considerations and legal issues.
Three of the babies were to be flown to Israel, along with eight family members, on Sunday.
Under Israeli law, only heterosexual couples can legally have children through surrogate mothers, meaning homosexual couples and single people often seek help overseas, said Roy Youldous of Tammuz, an Israeli firm offering surrogacy services.
Although couples from Israel are able to use US surrogacy agencies, they have often preferred to look east because it is much cheaper than western alternatives.
Until recently, Thailand was also a popular destination but in February, Bangkok banned foreign couples from using Thai surrogates after a series of high-profile scandals.
Fifteen of the babies, four of them premature, were born to surrogate mothers working for Tammuz, Youldous said, adding that he hoped the infants would be "brought to Israel without delay".
There were currently 52 Israeli parents, future-parents and various friends or relatives with them that were affiliated with Tammuz in Nepal.
Besides the 15 babies, another 80 women working with Tammuz — all of them Indian — were pregnant, said Youldous.
"We also expect the surrogate women would be cared for," he added.
Interior Minister Gilad Erdan pledged to help all the babies to reach Israel, where they would undergo DNA testing to confirm their parentage.
Such a procedure would normally take place in Nepal.
Israeli Tamar Rotem said her sister Noa Roth — whose baby girl was born prematurely via an Indian surrogate three days ago — was among the Israelis waiting to be airlifted.
She said Roth and her baby had spent the night in a makeshift tent outside the Kathmandu hospital.
"We don't know if there are doctors there... We don't know how the premature babies are being fed. We're very worried," she said.
"We're talking about babies for whom every hour and minute is critical to their life and development. They're in a life-endangering situation."
Two Israeli aid planes were to leave for Nepal on Sunday carrying 95 tonnes of humanitarian aid and a team of 260 people to help with the rescue efforts, among them 122 doctors, nurses and paramedics, the army said.
They will set up a field hospital capable of treating 200 people per day. AFP