Israeli military search and rescue teams worked overnight Tuesday and early Wednesday morning to pull at least four Turkish civilians from the rubble in areas in southeastern Turkey affected by a devastating earthquake that killed thousands of people, officials said.
The Israel Defense Forces’ delegation of some 150 search and rescue experts of the Home Front Command landed early Tuesday. The IDF is also sending a second delegation, of 230 people, to establish a field hospital in the area.
Overnight Tuesday, the IDF said Home Front Command teams managed to rescue a young woman and a boy trapped under rubble in separate areas in Kahramanmaraş.
“We were on our way to a damaged site when we were called by locals who said they heard sounds coming from the rubble. We began a complicated rescue operation that lasted four and a half hours… and we rescued a 23-year-old woman in good health, only with a fractured pelvis,” said Maj. (Res.) Matan Schneider, the commander of one of the teams.
“We are working around the clock to save lives and we did locate two people trapped under the rubble,” said Felix Lotan, a Magen David Adom paramedic who joined the IDF teams.
“We managed to rescue a 12-year-old boy and a 23-year-old woman from the ruins after almost 48 hours, while still alive. The cold is very harsh, so time is critical. We are doing everything we can to save as many lives as possible in the complex conditions,” Lotan added.
The military published footage of the rescues.
The deputy chief of the Israeli mission to Turkey, Nadav Markman, said Wednesday morning that the Israeli teams had rescued four Turkish civilians in total, including children.
Meanwhile, a preliminary IDF team landed in Turkey early Wednesday to scout out the area and determine where the field hospital would be established. The hospital was expected to be established Wednesday night, officials said.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday afternoon, the head of the aid delegation, Col. (Res.) Golan Vach, said the Israeli teams had been the most successful so far, with four rescues and another two that were being worked on.
“The Israeli delegation is the largest, with the exception of Azerbaijan which sent 400 people. I believe that by tonight we will reach over 420 people,” Vach said, as two Israeli Air Force heavy transport planes carrying the field hospital equipment and medical officials took off for the affected areas in southeastern Turkey.
“We have conducted the highest number of rescues so far. I think that the state [of Israel] and the Home Front Command know how to carry out such tasks in a short time. The speed with which we reached the scene is what brought us to these results and I hope we will achieve more results soon,” he added.
Vach said such IDF aid delegations usually last between nine and 14 days, and in this case, were ready to stay that long.
Speaking on the rescue of the 12-year-old boy, Vach said the search and rescue teams did not expect there to have been survivors in the building.
“Forces receive an area and scan it even though they do not assume there to be any survivors, in such a form of collapse. They crawl under the floor, arrive in the basement and hear something that sounds like a bird chirping. It turns out that it is a child who heard them and shouted,” Vach said.
“They rescued a 12-year-old boy whose four family members died in the [same] room. He comes down to us from the ceiling safe and sound and walks on his feet. It looks just like birth,” he added.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Vach on Wednesday, commending him on the team’s efforts.
“You are carrying out the most important humanitarian work and are bringing great honor to the State of Israel, and showing our true face to the world,” Netanyahu told Vach via phone. “Do whatever you can to save lives, and stay safe.”
The military has dubbed the aid operation “Olive Branches.”
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.
Several delegations of Israeli medics from emergency organizations have also headed to Turkey to assist local authorities in treating victims of the earthquake.
The Foreign Ministry was weighing an additional flight to Turkey containing humanitarian items and medicine.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Israel also plans to send aid to Syria, including tents, medication, and blankets.
But Syrian sources vigorously denied requesting aid from Israel, and IDF spokesman Ran Kochav told reporters that the military was not involved in potential aid to Syria.
Israel considers Syria a hostile state, and the two do not have diplomatic ties. However, during the neighboring country’s bloody civil war, the IDF carried out a massive humanitarian operation to aid Syrian civilians.
The earthquake death toll was at least 11,200 people in both Turkey and Syria as of Wednesday afternoon.
Hundreds were still believed to be trapped under rubble, and the toll was expected to rise as rescue workers searched mounds of wreckage in cities and towns across the area.