The IDF announced Friday it was closing down an Israeli clinic on the Syrian border that has treated thousands of Syrians over the past year.
The Mazor Ladach field clinic, whose name means “relief for the suffering,” was part of the army’s multi-faceted humanitarian relief operation, dubbed Operation Good Neighbor and launched in 2013.
Israel has treated thousands of Syrians in field hospitals on the border and in public hospitals, mostly in northern Israel, over the past five years. Since 2016, as part of the operation, more than 600 Syrian children, accompanied by their mothers, have come to Israel for treatment. Hundreds of tons of food, medical equipment and clothing have also been sent across the border to Syria.
But over the past week, the IDF has reportedly begun to scale back its border operations and close the border to fleeing civilians seeking medical care. The reason: Syrian government forces have completed their takeover of the area bordering Israel’s Golan Heights from rebel groups, leaving the Damascus government in charge of the area and responsible for civilians’ well-being there.
The army’s decision represents the first time that the border will be completely closed to any Syrian civilians since Good Neighbor was initiated. Officials stressed, however, that the program has not been permanently shuttered and rather only “frozen” until the outcome of the Syrian government offensive, and its consequences for civilians in the border area, becomes clear.
Mazor Ladach’s impending closure — soldiers have already begun dismantling some of the facilities — is part of that freeze.
“The IDF sees in the Syrian regime the responsible party for all that transpires in Syrian territory,” the military said in its statement announcing Mazor Ladach’s closure on Friday. The army is also “following events in the area and is prepared for any eventuality,” it said.
The clinic opened in August 2017, and in its year of operation treated 6,800 Syrians.
Last month, as part of Good Neighbor, the military evacuated hundreds of Syrian “White Helmets” rescue workers and their families through Israel to Jordan at the request of Western countries.
The Israel Defense Forces said it engaged in the “out-of-the-ordinary” gesture due to the “immediate risk” to the lives of the civilians, as Russian-backed regime forces closed in on the area. It stressed that it was not intervening in the ongoing fighting in Syria.
On Monday, the Syrian government regained control of the frontier with the Israeli Golan Heights for the first time in seven years, after Islamic State-linked jihadists gave up their last pocket of territory in the area.
The breakthrough, reported by Syrian state media and an opposition-linked war monitoring group, capped a six-week-long bloody campaign to retake the southwest corner of the country.
In response, Israel has reportedly asked Russia to ensure that Syrian government forces do not harm or massacre civilians during the fighting.
Rebels captured the area along the Golan Heights after a popular uprising broke out against Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2011. An IS-linked outfit known as the Khaled bin Al-Waleed Army later seized the area from the opposition fighters.
Israel took control of 1,200 square kilometers (460 square miles) of the Golan from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognized internationally.
The region is strategically important for Syria because it also controls a key highway from the Jordanian border to the capital, Damascus.
UN peacekeeping forces first deployed along the frontier in 1974 to separate Syrian and Israeli forces.
While largely keeping to the sidelines of the Syrian civil war, Israel has said it will not allow Iran or the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah to establish a permanent military presence near the frontier. Both are allied with Assad and have provided crucial military support to his forces.