A delegation of more than 160 Israeli search and rescue experts was greeted at Ben Gurion Airport on Monday afternoon, after spending the past week saving civilians trapped under collapsed buildings in Turkey following a devastating earthquake that struck the region.
The Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command teams — which also included some Magen David Adom paramedics and Fire and Rescue Service officials — managed to rescue 19 civilians from the rubble in southeastern Turkey.
“This is an unprecedented number of rescues compared to previous IDF rescue missions,” the military said in a statement.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, welcoming the delegation back in Israel, said, “The entire people of Israel are proud of you.”
“The entire people of Israel followed your rescue operation with great emotion. You went on behalf of the country and you brought great honor to the State of Israel. We saw you in action in the cold, in difficult conditions around the clock in the most sacred work a person can do — saving the lives of others,” Netanyahu said.
“You did something else. You showed the entire world the true and beautiful face of the State of Israel: a small country with a huge soul, a country that rushes to help others around the world and in the harshest conditions, out of humanity and the highest morality. This is the true face of Israel,” he continued.
“It is precisely at this time that your mission receives extra significance. In these stormy times, you remind all of us that we are one people, with one fate, and with one future. All of Israel is proud of you. I am proud of you. I salute you. Welcome home,” Netanyahu added.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and IDF chief Herzi Halevi also participated in the welcoming ceremony.
Sakir Ozkan Torunlar, Turkey’s ambassador to Israel, said the Home Front Command teams were among the first at the scene of the 7.8-magnitude quake and its aftershocks last Monday.
“Thank you very much for your efforts,” Torunlar said to the teams.
“That was followed by the field hospital sent to Kahramanmaraş, erected in less than 24 hours,” he added.
According to Israeli officials, Israel’s field hospital has so far treated 412 people wounded by the quake. It will continue to operate at least until the end of the week.
The IDF Home Front Command is regularly dispatched around the world to assist in natural disasters, including earthquakes, wildfires, flooding, and building collapses.
The Israeli military field hospital is also regularly dispatched to disaster zones to provide humanitarian relief.
The earthquake death toll stood at over 36,000 people in both Turkey and Syria as of Monday.