Seven wounded Syrians — two children, four women and a man — waited in pain for darkness to fall to cross into enemy territory. Under the faint moonlight, Israeli military medical corps quickly whisked the patients across the hostile frontier into armoured ambulances headed to hospitals for intensive care.
It was a scene that has recurred since 2013, when the Israeli military began treating Syrian civilians wounded in fighting just a few miles away. Israel says it has quietly treated 3,000 patients — a number that it expects to quickly grow as fighting heats up in neighbouring Syria in the wake of a chemical attack and, in response, an unprecedented US missile strike.
While the numbers are a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded in the six-year Syrian war, both doctors and patients say the programme has changed perceptions and helped ease tensions across the hostile border.
Dr. Salman Zarka, director of the Ziv medical centre in the northern Israeli town of Safed, is a former colonel in the medical corps who served on the Syrian border.
He said he "couldn't then have imagined setting up a humanitarian program for Syrians" Now his hospital has delivered 19 Syrian babies and sends prescriptions with patients back into Syria.
"All this makes it more human, more complicated," Zarka said, adding that he worries about patients he knows on a first name-basis who have returned to Syria.
Israel has largely stayed out of the fighting in Syria, which has claimed over 400,000 lives. But it has carried out a number of airstrikes on suspected weapons shipments to Hezbollah, a bitter enemy that is fighting alongside Syrian government forces.
Tensions skyrocketed this week after an alleged chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government killed dozens of people. The US responded early on Friday by launching 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air base —— a dramatic escalation lauded by Sunni states, rebels and Israel but condemned by Assad, Russia and China.
Friday, April 14, 2017