World First Look

Israel may accept Aleppo refugees for medical treatment

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu announced Tuesday that he was pursuing the possibility of bringing in wounded from Aleppo in order to provide them with medical care.

An evacuee from a rebel-held area of Aleppo, waits on a wheelchair upon his arrival with others at insurgent-held al-Rashideen, Syria December 19, 2016.
Ammar Abdullah/Reuters
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Syrian civilians who evacuated from the besieged city of Aleppo and who need medical attention may soon find an unlikely refuge: Israel.

On Tuesday, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he was looking for ways to provide medical assistance to some of the thousands of refugees fleeing the war-torn city.

“We see the tragedy of terrible suffering of civilians and I’ve asked the Foreign Ministry to seek ways to expand our medical assistance to the civilian causalities of the Syrian tragedy, specifically in Aleppo where we’re prepared to take in wounded women and children, and also men if they’re not combatants,” Mr. Netanyahu said during a reception for foreign correspondents, Israel's Haaretz reports.

Though Israel remains formally in a state of war with Syria, wounded from Syria’s civil war have been making their way discreetly to Israeli hospitals for almost three years, passing through the occupied Golan frontline and across Syria's southern border. Many of those wounded were treated at the Ziv Medical Center, whose director, Salman Zarka spoke to US audiences earlier this week.

“Despite hostilities between Israel and Syria, there is a need to help Syrians for medical assistance,” Dr. Zarka told an American audience, The Sun Sentinel reported. “The Syrian Civil War began in 2011 and we at Ziv Medical Center have given medical assistance to the Syrians wounded since February of 2013. We are proud to have helped over 2,500 Syrians with assistance.”

Earlier this week, nearly 50 children were safely rescued from an orphanage within the war-torn city, many of whom were in critical condition and needed immediate medical attention either for injuries or because of severe dehydration.

As the conflict continues to develop in the areas surrounding Aleppo, operations to evacuate civilians have now successfully brought more than 37,500 noncombatants from the city since last week. But the removal process has hit major complications throughout the operation, with the operation halting completely after evacuation buses were attacked and burnt over agreements between the two sides to also evacuate civilians from other besieged villages.

Monday, the United Nations Security Council unanimously called for better monitoring access both of the evacuations themselves and of the safety of civilians remaining within the city.

The conflict has pitted pro-Syrian government allies Russia and China against many Western countries whose sympathies lie with the rebel movement. Recently, loyalist troops backed by Russian warplanes moved through Aleppo, at times reducing entire neighborhoods to rubble as they sought to retake rebel-held sections of the city.

Thus, Netanyahu’s recent decision to pursue avenues for providing safety and medical assistance for Syrian civilians comes as a major step toward assisting the refugees caught in the center of this ongoing conflict.

While Israel tacitly supports the Assad regime even facilitating improved relations with Russia to avoid a conflict between the two nations in Syria. A senior Israeli intelligence official told The Times of London,“better the devil that we know than the demons we can only imagine if Syria falls into chaos and the extremists from across the Arab world gain a foothold there.”

But Netanyahu’s latest announcement appears to be founded entirely in an overall desire to alleviate the suffering of those civilians fleeing the violent region, with even his opposition leader calling for the government to allow Syrian refugees into Israel.

“Will it come together and be a unified Syria? I doubt it. I think you have enclaves there and they are not about to disappear,” Netanyahu stated in his address, according to the Jerusalem Post, however adding that Israel will not allow the Syrian war to “spill over into our territory.”