Helped 470, including 150 children and some Syrian refugees

After treating hundreds, IDF medical delegation to quake-hit Turkey back in Israel

IDF chief says there were some security concerns with field hospital — but not enough to prompt second thoughts about coming to save victims of earthquake

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

IDF medical officers treat wounded Turkish civillians at a field hospital near Kahramanmaraş, February 14, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF medical officers treat wounded Turkish civillians at a field hospital near Kahramanmaraş, February 14, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

A delegation of more than 150 Israeli medical experts returned to Israel on Wednesday, wrapping up a week of treating wounded civilians in Turkey following a devastating earthquake that struck the region.

The teams, which established a field hospital at an abandoned medical center outside the southeastern Turkish city of Kahramanmaraş, also known as Marash, included military medics, logistics support, and Health Ministry doctors, nurses and paramedics.

The hospital treated around 470 victims, including 150 children and several Syrian refugees who were in Turkey at the time of February 6’s 7.8-magnitude quake and its aftershocks. The IDF said the teams also performed ten surgical and orthopedic operations.

A ceremony was held at the Ben Ami military logistics base, close to Ben Gurion Airport, for the delegation’s return to the country.

“To all of you, welcome home and much respect,” said military chief Herzi Halevi, welcoming the medical teams. “You set out to assist people whose lives were totally shaken up.”

“You went to a dangerous place, both in a seismological sense and security-wise in a way. I have to say that we were worried about security in the beginning and wanted to put more significant security than what the Turkish authorities allowed, without getting into details. But this did not cause us to rethink,” Halevi said.

IDF medical officers treat wounded Turkish civilians at a field hospital near Kahramanmaraş, February 10, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Halevi said the Israel Defense Forces sent the delegation for “ethical reasons, to save lives,” which was “reason enough,” while adding that it also did so to learn from a real-world scenario and for the benefit of Israel’s relations with Turkey.

IDF chief Herzi Halevi speaks at a ceremony welcoming a military field hospital delegation back to Israel, at the Ben Ami base in central Israel, February 15, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

On Tuesday, a separate delegation of over 160 search and rescue experts returned to Israel after saving 19 civilians from the rubble in southeastern Turkey.

The military dubbed the aid operation “Olive Branches.”

A smaller Israeli aid delegation of members of the United Hatzalah emergency service returned earlier in the week, citing security concerns.

IDF search and rescue teams work to find survivors after an earthquake in Turkey on February 10, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

While experts say trapped people could survive for a week or more, the chances of finding survivors in the freezing temperatures are dimming. As emergency crews and panicked relatives dug through the rubble — and occasionally found people alive — the focus began to shift to demolishing dangerously unstable structures.

The earthquake death toll stood at over 41,000 people in both Turkey and Syria as of Wednesday.

Thousands were still believed to be trapped under rubble, and the toll was expected to rise as rescue workers searched through mounds of wreckage in cities and towns across the area.

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