Druze campaign to keep 7 wounded Syrian refugees in Israel

Golan Heights communities send letter to defense minister calling on him to act according to Jewish values

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

An Israeli watchtower above the Druze village of Majdal Shams, near the Israeli-Syrian border (photo credit: Lior Mizrahi/Flash90)
An Israeli watchtower above the Druze village of Majdal Shams, near the Israeli-Syrian border (photo credit: Lior Mizrahi/Flash90)

As they lie on beds in an Israeli hospital recovering from injuries sustained during fighting in Syria, seven wounded refugees are the subject of a campaign to keep them in Israel legally.

Local Druze communities on the Golan Heights who oppose the Syrian regime sent a letter to Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz requesting that the Syrian men be allowed to stay in Israel after they are released from the hospital.

Attorney Fuad Safdi of the Druze village of Majdal Shams said he intended to appeal on behalf of the men that they not be turned over to Syrian authorities after they are released from Ziv Hospital in Safed, where they were taken on Saturday.

“In the letter we asked to be allowed to visit them and adopt them,” Safdi said, according to Maariv. “Most important of all to us is that Israel keeps them here, or arranges that they go to a third state that will be willing to take them in as refugees.”

“It is my duty as an Israeli lawyer of Syrian descent,” he said. “I expect the Israeli authorities to act according to the values of the Jewish people in this matter. The State of Israel needs to act with caution when it considers repatriating people who are likely to be sentenced to death.”

At the start of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday morning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu briefly referred to the incident and made it clear that Israel would not normally open its borders to Syrian refugees.

“We saw fighting yesterday on our borders,” Netanyahu said. “We will continue to protect our borders and prevent people crossing or entering into Israel, except for individual, specific cases, each of which will be considered in its own merit.”

The seven men, said to be in their twenties and thirties, are being kept isolated from other patients in secure rooms. One of the wounded was in critical condition when brought to the hospital but is now said to be in serious, but stable, condition. The others had moderate injuries to their limbs or midsections, doctors said, and estimated that the men would be kept in the hospital at least a week.

The head of the hospital’s surgical department said the Syrian refugees are fully aware of where they are and have been talking Arabic among themselves. Tal said an interpreter was brought in to assist in their treatment.

The men were brought to the hospital on Saturday after a clash between rebel forces and the Syrian army near the border with Israel. The IDF has remained tight-lipped about exactly how the men were brought across the border and under what circumstances they were injured, whether as combatants or civilian bystanders.The incident marks the first time that Syrian refugees have been allowed to enter Israel since the civil war in that country began in 2011.

Although in the past residents of Majdal Shams have supported President Bashar Assad, since the start of the civil war and the brutal attempts to suppress rebels that have left over 70,000 dead, many have switched sides and now support those trying to bring down the government.

In May 2011 hundreds of Syrian protesters succeeded in briefly crossing the border into Israel and entering Majdal Shams during the annual Nakba Day demonstrations, which protest the establishment of the State of Israel.

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