In overnight operations on Tuesday-Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces delivered hundreds of care packages donated by residents of the Israeli Golan Heights to displaced Syrian children in camps across the border, the army said.
The mission was part of the “Operation Good Neighbor” run by the IDF’s Bashan Division, which has been providing humanitarian aid to Syrians in the border area since June 2016.
Earlier this month, the Golan Regional Council opened a donation center that collected items from local communities, including hundreds of personal gift bags containing toys, crayons, games, candies and notes from the children of the Golan Heights, the army said Wednesday.
Sigal Gilboa, an official from the Golan Regional Council, said the drive targeted children aged 3-12. Israeli children living in Golan Heights communities were each asked to prepare a personal gift bag for a child in Syria.
The goods were then given to the IDF, and the military transferred the packages across the border in two military operations to “camps in the north and south of the Syrian Golan Heights,” the IDF said in a statement.
The commander of the “Good Neighbor” mission, Lt. Col. E., called it “a unique and exciting operation.”
“All of this was done for our neighbors on the other side of the fence, who have been educated to hate Israel and everything related to it and in recent years have understood that the only country which has aided them was the same one they feared,” said the commander, whose identity is barred from publication.
The head of the Golan Regional Council, Eli Malka, who initiated the collection, said local residents felt a moral obligation to help those caught up in the Syrian civil war, now in its eighth year.
“We, the residents of the Golan, look right over the fence and see the people fleeing from the killing fields, together with their children and clinging to the fence with Israel,” Malka said, according to the IDF statement. “We feel the moral obligation, in accordance with our values, to send humanitarian aid and as much as possible to build a human connection with those who have always been our neighbors on the other side of the fence.”
According to the IDF, 30 aid operations on behalf of the displaced Syrians have delivered 75,700 liters of fuel for heating and operation of generators, 20 medical equipment units, 77 tons of clothing, 556 tents, 30 shade nets, 12.5 tons of baby food, and 130 tons of other food.
Since the renewed attacks by pro-regime forces began earlier this month in the Daraa province, tens of thousands of Syrian civilians have been streaming to the nearby Israeli and Jordanian borders, seeking refuge.
A number of camps have been set up in the area, but these generally lack access to fresh water, electricity, and other basic needs. In many cases, these camps are overflowing, and do not have sufficient shelters. Some Syrians are reportedly sleeping outside at night.
The Israeli military has said that while it is providing humanitarian aid to southwestern Syria, it would not let the thousands of refugees cross the border into Israeli territory. Israel and Syria technically remain at war.
Michael Bachner contributed to this report.