Israel treats wounded Syrians while balancing non-intervention in war

When Abu Hamzeh recovers from his car bomb injuries and returns to Syria, he says he will be most grateful to a country that has been reluctant to intervene in his country's multi-sided civil war.

"First of all, I'll thank Israel because they treated us well," Abu Hamzeh says from a bed in northern Israel's Ziv hospital, located 30 kilometres from Israel's ceasefire line with Syria.

It was Israel's "quick" response, he says, that helped him get medical attention less than an hour after he was injured last Wednesday in an Islamic State car bombing near the southern Syrian border town of Quneitra.

Since the Syrian civil war began approaching the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights three years ago, Israel has treated some 2,000 injured Syrians, says Israeli military spokesman Peter Lerner.

In spite of long-standing ceasefire agreements, Israel and Syria officially remain in a state of war.

The severely injured - women, children, but also men - are left on the Syrian side of the border fence, where, under the cover of night, they are picked up by Israeli army medics.

Lerner does not want to say with whom Israel coordinates to allow their transfer, as he says this could put the channel, which he calls a "gentlemen's agreement," at risk.

But it seems clear those on the other side belong to the moderate, secular Sunni opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

A 24-year-old Syrian in the bed next to Abu Hamzeh's, who only wants to be called Fares, says it was "the shabab" - "the guys" who brought him to the border with Israel after he stepped on a bomb that exploded.

Asked who the shabab were, he says softly: The Free Syrian Army.

Abu Hamzeh says he supports the rebels and the revolution, the Free Syrian Army. But he says he was not a fighter. As a doctor, he has been treating injured rebels over the past five years, first secretly, then more freely in "areas liberated by the rebels."

Military planes of the Assad regime attacked the field hospitals he worked in. He says he was almost killed 13 times.

Syria's future will be "very dark," if the world does not stop the spread of ISIS, says Abu Hamzeh.

"We went out against Bashar al-Assad and now we have ISIS," he says.

Asked how he feels about being treated in a so-called enemy state, Fares says "at first when I came here I felt like I'm in a strange place, I'm in Israel." Now, after one month, he says he feels "normal, comfortable."

"I get the best treatment. They're all being nice to me."

Fares insists he was not a fighter either, but a farmer, who grew beans near Damascus.

Ziv hospital has treated some 600 of the 2,000 injured Syrians transferred to Israel. Of those, nine died in hospital and the rest returned home, most after several months and with orthopaedic devices.

Orthopaedics Department Director Alexander Lerner has become a top war-injuries authority. 

It is thanks to him that Abu Hamzeh and Fares still have both their legs.

"Every external fixation device is 2-3,000 US dollars. Sometimes a patient needs two or three devices," says the professor.

"All treatment is paid for by our country - tax payers and donations - because there is no communication. The two countries are in a war condition," says the surgeon.

But Nizar Ayoub, a member of the al-Marsad rights group that opposes Israel's occupation of the Golan Heights, is critical of Israel's response to the war in Syria.

"Why is Israel the only neighbouring power that is taking no Syrian refugees?" he asks in the Druze town of Majd el-Shams, in the Golan Heights, not far from the Ziv hospital.

Ayoub says handicapped civilians should not be sent back to a war zone, bur Israel says none of those treated want to stay.

Ayoub also accuses Israel of being interested in protecting Assad.

"This regime should have fallen in 2011 and the first party or state to argue that the alternative was no better was Israel," he charges.

Lieutenant-Colonel Lerner insists Israel's policy is non-involvement. Their activities are limited to occasional airstrikes on weapons convoys headed via Syria to Lebanon's radical Shiite Hezbollah movement, Israel's arch-enemy.

Lerner won't comment on the assumption that the best scenario for Israel would be for the moderate opposition to win.

But the military spokesman comments that "if the Assad regime comes out with the upper hand, that means a stronger Iran, a stronger Hezbollah."

If the radical Islamist got the upper hand that would be bad news for Israel too, he notes. 

Currently the Assad regime and Hezbollah are at the northern part of Israel's unrecognized border with Syria. Al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra is on the middle of the border and ISIS-affiliate Shuhada al-Yarmouk are on the southern-most part, says army official Lerner.

Al-Marsad hints that Israel's treatment of injured Syrians is mostly to make itself look good. Lerner, the surgeon, says "we hope that our treatment will be a stone in building peace in our region."

Last update: Tue, 15/03/2016 - 11:24

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