Clonaid chief in Israel

The head of the controversial cloning firm Clonaid is in Israel to offer the families of Israeli and Palestinian victims of the 29-month intifada the chance to clone their dead relatives, a statement from the company said.

A French national and former chemist, Brigitte Boisselier will meet with couples who wished "to clone a member of their family who died in recent tragic events in both Israel and Palestine," the statement said.

According to an AFP count, some 3086 people have been killed since the outset of the Palestinian uprising, or intifada, in September 2000, including 2312 Palestinians and 717 Israelis.

Boisselier was also slated to meet with existing Clonaid patients during the week-long visit, the company said, without giving further details.

It was likely Boisselier would meet with the alleged first cloned baby, named Eve, who was said to be living in Israel with her Jewish parents.

Clonaid, which is linked to the controversial Raelian sect, said in January the baby born on December 26 last year was living in Israel, although the claim has never been substantiated.

Another two babies were said to be living in Holland and Japan, while a fourth was said to have been born to Saudi Arabian parents at the end of January. A fifth cloned baby was born on February 4, the company said.

The scientific community remains sceptical about the announcements, and some maintain that they are nothing more than an elaborate hoax, but Clonaid insists it will provide conclusive proof.

Two years ago, the Israeli government outlawed human cloning after reports that an Italian doctor planned to clone babies near Tel Aviv because the Jewish state allowed the practice.

And late last year, the highest Muslim authority in the Palestinian territories, the Fatwa Council, said human cloning was "absolutely banned" under Islamic law as it could cause deformities with serious consequences.

Clonaid, which claims to be the first human cloning company, was founded in February 1997 by Rael who is the leader of the Raelian Movement, which sees cloning as a route to immortality.

The Raelians, who claim some 60,000 followers worldwide, believe life on Earth was established by extraterrestrials who arrived in flying saucers 25,000 years ago and produced the first humans through cloning as a result of their knowledge of DNA.