‘When we told them we were Jews from Israel, they kissed us’
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'If we hadn't been there, there wouldn't be any survivors. It was a honor to save them'

‘When we told them we were Jews from Israel, they kissed us’

Amid tragic circumstances, Israeli boaters save 11 Syrian and Iraqi refugees drifting off the coast of Turkey and trying to make their way to Europe

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A refugee mourns her son after she was rescued by an Israeli yacht crew off the Greek coast on October 18, 2015. (Courtesy Gal Baruch)
A refugee mourns her son after she was rescued by an Israeli yacht crew off the Greek coast on October 18, 2015. (Courtesy Gal Baruch)

An Israeli yacht crew rescued a group of Syrian and Iraqi refugees clinging to a capsized rubber dinghy adrift in the water in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea Sunday morning.

The group, sailing off the coast of Turkey, pulled 11 refugees from the water, in addition to a dead infant.

After hearing faint cries for help while boating between the Turkish town of Kas and the Greek island of Kastellorizo, members of the Ashdod-based Poseidon Sailing Club noticed an approximately 11-year-old Syrian boy floating in the water alone.

“We pulled him out of the water and he told us his brother was missing and probably dead,” the yacht’s captain, Shlomo Asaban, told the Ynet news website.

The crew began to search for members of the boy’s family who had been aboard the sunken boat. “We rescued 12 people in all, including a dead infant,” the captain said.

“The mother said she had cradled her infant son’s body all night,” Asaban told the Hebrew-language news site.

“We realized they were Syrian and Iraqi. We gave them water and cellphones so they could contact their families, Asaban recounted. “Afterwards, we told them we were Jews from Israel, and they kissed us and said ‘Thank you,'” he added.

Another passenger on the yacht, Gal Baruch, said the dramatic rescue had been a harrowing experience for crew members.

“We’re a team who’ve spent a lot of time at sea, but we’ve never come across such a difficult scene,” he related. “The crew acted fittingly and we followed maritime law — which dictates you have to save people regardless of where they are from.

“The most difficult moment was pulling the deceased baby out of the water and watching his mother mourn him on our boat,” Baruch told Israel’s Channel 2. “That is something that will remain with me for the rest of my life.”

Refugees from Iraq and Syria after being rescued by members of an Israeli yacht crew off of the Greek coast on October 18, 2015. (Gal Baruch, courtesy)
Refugees from Iraq and Syria after being rescued by members of an Israeli yacht crew off the Greek coast on October 18, 2015. (Courtesy Gal Baruch)

Baruch said crew members administered lifesaving first aid to one of the survivors, who was suffering from a heart attack and a diabetic seizure. “We gave him candy, and it saved his life,” he said.

“Let’s just say if we hadn’t been there, there wouldn’t be any survivors,” Baruch told the TV station. “It will be hard to return to normal life after this… This is something that will never leave any of us. But it’s an honor to save 11 people.”

The refugees were taken to shore and transferred to Greek authorities on Kastellorizo.

Hundreds of refugees have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach Greece and other locations, amid what international officials have described as a crisis.

European leaders are scrambling for solutions to manage the tide and discourage migrants — many of them refugees from the Syrian war — from risking their lives in illegal crossings run by traffickers.

On Thursday, a wooden boat carrying dozens of migrants sank near Lesbos after colliding with a Greek coast guard vessel.

Seven people, including four children, died, and the body of a woman that could be part of the same group was found on Friday.

Members of Ashdod's Poseidon Sailing Club who rescued 11 Syrian and Iraqi refugees off of the Greek coast on October 18, 2015. (Gal Baruch, courtesy)
Members of Ashdod’s Poseidon Sailing Club who rescued 11 Syrian and Iraqi refugees off the Greek coast on October 18, 2015. (Courtesy Gal Baruch)

According to Greece’s port police, the boat had apparently been attempting to flee the coast guard vessel.

Over 200 migrants have died making the perilous Aegean Sea crossing from Turkey to Greece this year.

On Wednesday, a woman, a young girl and a baby died after their boat sank off Lesbos.

Late on Thursday, EU leaders at a summit had urged Turkey to help stem the refugee flow.

More than 470,000 people have arrived in Greece, according to the IOM, most of them fleeing the civil war in Syria.

Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.

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