Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said Tuesday that he had asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to officially request an emergency United Nations Security Council session on the worsening humanitarian situation in Syria, asserting that, “as Jews, we cannot ignore these atrocities.”
Deri, chair of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, said that the history of the Jewish people demanded Israel do what it can to the prevent the “massacre” of innocent civilians. “Six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust and the world was silent. As Jews, we cannot ignore these atrocities that have been taking place for nearly six years in Syria,” he said in a statement.
More than 300,000 people have been killed in Syria and millions more have fled their homes in nearly six years of civil war between government forces and a collection of rebel and Islamist groups.
On Tuesday, government troops poised for the final sweep to take the last rebel holdouts in eastern Aleppo as the international community and aid agencies appealed for the lives of thousands of civilians who have “nowhere safe to run” to be spared and for those fighting to capture the rebel enclave to refrain from atrocities. The UN said that pro-regime forces had executed 82 civilians in the city.
“The increasing massacre in Aleppo and the murder of babies, children, women and the elderly obligates us as Jews — a people that has known the horrors of the Holocaust and unbearable massacres — to raise our voices and cry out,” Deri said, adding that he had asked Netanyahu to turn to the UN.
The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on whether Netanyahu planned to ask for a UN Security Council session.
While several officials have spoken out about the humanitarian situation in Syria, Israel has largely kept out of the international debate over the plight of the victims, focusing instead on the security threat posed by fighting on its borders.
Since March 2011, when the Syrian conflict began, dozens of mortar shells have landed in Israeli territory as a result of accidental spillover from the fighting. The IDF often responds to fire that crosses into Israel by striking Syrian army posts. Jerusalem says it maintains a policy of holding Damascus responsible for all fire from Syria into Israel regardless of the source.
In February, after a now-broken ceasefire was announced, Netanyahu said that while Israel was glad about the prospect of an end to hostilities, any long-term solution had to provide security for the Jewish state as well.
“We welcome the efforts to attain a stable, long-term and real ceasefire in Syria. Anything that stops the terrible carnage there is important, first and foremost from a humane standpoint,” he told the cabinet. “But at the same time, it’s important that one thing remains clear: Any arrangement in Syria must include ending Iranian aggression against Israel from Syrian territory.”
In September 2015, as hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees began to arrive in Europe, a brief public debate ensued in Israel over its own responsibility toward Syrian refugees.
Netanyahu rejected the possibility of Israel taking in refugees, saying that while the Jewish state was not unsympathetic to the suffering of citizens across its border — Israel has treated hundreds of injured Syrians who have arrived on the northern border — it did not have the capacity to absorb masses of people.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog hit back at Netanyahu’s claims that Israel could not take in refugees, accusing the prime minister of ignoring basic Jewish ethical concerns.
As interior minister, Deri is responsible for asylum requests but has not said he would support taking in Syrian refugees. A spokesperson for the minister did not immediately respond to a question from The Times of Israel as to whether his call for a Security Council debate indicated a willingness to consider taking in Syrian refugees.
Deri has repeatedly called for tougher measures against an influx of illegal immigrants from Africa, many of whom claim to be fleeing oppression in Sudan and Eritrea.
Eritrean nationals submitted 7,218 requests for asylum to Israeli authorities between 2009 and the beginning of July 2016, of which only eight were approved, with 3,105 still waiting for a response and the rest either rejected or withdrawn, according to Interior Ministry figures.
On Monday Deri tweeted a report by the Haaretz daily that 12,000 Sudanese and Eritrean illegal immigrants had left Israel of their own accord in the past three years. Alongside the article Deri proudly claimed, “We are continuing to take care of the residents of the underprivileged communities,” a reference to Israelis from neighborhoods that have complained about an influx of African immigrants.