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Australian Professor And Sister Found Dead In Argentina, Nephew Arrested

The bodies of an Australian professor and her sister have been found buried in a shallow grave inside a small property in the Argentinian city of Mendoza.

Dr. Lily Pereg, 54,  and her sister Pyrhia Sarusi, 63, had been missing since January 12. Police found the pair buried inside a cabin at the bottom of a property occupied by Sarusi's son, Nicolás Gil Pereg, 36, on January 26.

He has since been charged with murder.

Gilad Pereg was arrested in Mendoza on January 26. Photo: AAP.

"Incomprehensible to wake up to the worst," wrote family member Oren Margalit on Facebook after the bodies were found.

"Cruel to say good-bye to your beloved cousin. It's hard to say when it's still fresh, but hope they're soon to be buried next to their parents."

The sisters, both Israeli citizens, had been staying in an apartment in downtown Mendoza and visited Pereg on the day they disappeared, security cameras revealed.

Authorities found the bodies in a shallow grave at the back of the property. Local media is reporting that at least one of the women was shot, while the other showed signs of being dragged.

The lot next to the home of Gilad Pereg. Photo: AAP.

Gil Pereg, a former member of the Israeli Defence Force, had been living in Mendoza since 2007, local media reports. His Guaymallén house did not have running water or electricity and had no bathroom or beds. Neighbours described him as a hermit.

"Although we had suspicions about Pereg's story, he was smart enough to disguise the truth and even in his denunciation of the disappearance of women," prosecutor Fernando Guzzo told a news conference.

The results of DNA studies were key to the arrest, local media reports. Genetic material of one of the toothbrushes at the downtown apartment where the sisters were staying matched with blood spots found on Pereg's shirt.

A motive is yet to be established, but Attorney General Alejandro Gulle said it was "not a problem of insecurity, but of a family nature", adding that authorities had always been suspicious of Pereg throughout the investigation.

Pereh is the local chairman for five companies established by his mother, reports Jewish News. Officers found several firearms, more than two million Pesos ($750,000) and a number of cats at the property. When arrested, Pereg threatened to kill himself if he could not feed his cats. As a result, he is undergoing psychiatric evaluation.

Dr. Lily Pereg, a professor of microbiology at the University of New England, had been appointed to a full professor just days before she travelled to the US and then on to Argentina.

The Israeli-born professor had been awarded a scholarship to complete a PHD at the University of Sydney in 1994, before moving to UNE in 2001.

This photo was shared on Facebook by Edna Pereg Navon with the caption, "Miss you my sisters."

"I just wanted to say that Lily was very kind to me and the world is a lesser place without people like her," a former UNE student, Nick Groogar, wrote on Facebook.

Dr. Rosalind Deaker, a microbiologist at the University of Sydney, said the research community was "devastated" by the news.

"Lily has been a friend and colleague since she arrived in Australia in the 1990s," Deaker wrote on Facebook.

"She has been a wonderful presence and highly regarded in her field of research. For me and many others, a beautiful friend."

A fundraising effort to fly family members to Mendoza during the search effort raised more than $7,000.

"Travel insurance will cover a lost suitcase, they will not cover a lost sister," said fundraiser starter Amnon Sarig.

Lily's friend Shosh Danhi Cohen said it was "a little weird" when she stopped responding to their WhatsApp chat, but that the group of friends thought she was simply on a flight. Photo: Facebook.

After the bodies had been recovered, Sarig paid tribute to both the public for their support and the authorities for their hard work -- in particular, a former police officer and family friend who provided "crucial" help, but did not want to be named.

"We at the family are at owe and humbled by the outpouring of support and love, worldwide," Sarig said.

"Your love carried us and will help us recover from a huge tragedy. There will never be an explanation. We are extremely thankful to the Mendoza Police Force who treated us with respect and dignity; the Interpol, The Australian Police and Israeli Police and the foreign offices for extending all support possible and sharing with the families whatever info is available.

"And to our dear family friend, former Police officer 'I'. who still refused to come forward and be recognised, for his crucial help."

Contact the author: abrucesmith@networkten.com.au