Israel says it no longer treats Syrian Islamist rebels inside country
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Israel says it no longer treats Syrian Islamist rebels inside country

As army intensifies border checks, al-Nusra fighters will be given care by physicians at the scene, army says

UN observers atop Mount Bental on the Israeli side of the border with Syria, close to the city of Quneitra, on May 30, 2015. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
UN observers atop Mount Bental on the Israeli side of the border with Syria, close to the city of Quneitra, on May 30, 2015. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

A senior IDF officer said Monday that Israel no longer treats casualties from the Syrian civil war who are members of the al-Nusra Front, a rebel group affiliated with al-Qaeda. He acknowledged there had been some previous, inadvertent cases in which such rebel fighters were able to “infiltrate” Israel’s humanitarian medical assistance program.

The officer was responding to comments made by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who claimed Israel has been helping the rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“According to his statements, Israel is behind the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State,” the IDF officer said. “It is important to note that only few al-Nusra Front fighters managed to infiltrate Israel to receive medical treatment here, and over the past month this has stopped and will not happen again. We are conducting checks at the border in order to prevent this.”

Israel has for several years been treating wounded from the Syrian civil war, some in a field hospital at the border and others in medical institutions inside the country. Critics aligned with the embattled Assad regime have accused the Jewish state of assisting rebels, including radical Islamists.

“We will only agree to let noncombatants enter Israel, and even then only after determining the identity of those in need of treatment,” the officer said. If non-civilians arrive at the border, he added, they will be treated at the scene by physicians, but will not be allowed into hospitals inside Israel. The officer stressed that Israel had never supported any of the rebel groups militarily. “I want to clarify – we did not support them with even a single bullet,” he said.

The officer’s statement came amid accusations from the Druze community in Israel saying the IDF has been assisting Syrian rebels even when the latter attack Druze Syrians.

Last month a wounded Syrian man was killed by Druze residents of Majdal Shams who attacked an Israeli ambulance that was evacuating him to the hospital. Five of those who attacked the ambulance are charged with murder. Since then border checks of wounded Syrians have become more stringent.

The scene where Druze Israeli residents attacked an Israeli ambulance carrying wounded Syrians near Majdal Shams,  June 22, 2015 (Basel Awidat/Flash90)
The scene where Druze Israeli residents attacked an Israeli ambulance carrying wounded Syrians near Majdal Shams, June 22, 2015 (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Many in the Druze community in Israel serve in the IDF, with members of the community represented among the top brass in combat units disproportionately to their number in the population. There is a small Druze community in the Golan Heights, however, that has traditionally identified with the Druze of Syria and refuses to take Israeli citizenship. Most of its members live in Majdal Shams, a village near the border.

Over the past few days, battles in the Syrian Golan Heights intensified, including artillery fire and pinpoint attacks in the area of Quneitra and Khan Arnabe, two Syrian towns strategically located at the Golan Heights’ north-to-south halfway point. Israel continues to treat wounded fighters and civilians at the border and since the lynching has increased the security given to medical teams.

Separately, the senior officer referred to the recently signed nuclear deal between world powers and Iran, calling it a regional shift that cannot be ignored. He added that Iran was still at the top of the IDF’s priority list. The General Staff’s working assumption is that Iran will continue funding terror proxies after the deal is implemented, even increasing its support following the lifting of economic sanctions. “Iran will continue to be mission No. 1 in the coming multi-year plan,” the officer said.

The officer said that Iran has so far invested $4-5 billion in financing terror groups, including training and weapons. He assessed that the lifting of sanctions would allow Iran to inject more money into groups fighting Israel, such as Hezbollah.

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