Israel weighs treating Syrian kids hurt in gas attack
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Israel weighs treating Syrian kids hurt in gas attack

Some ministers back idea, but defense chief Avigdor Liberman said to oppose it because of complications in coordinating rescue

Syrian children receive treatment following a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, April 4, 2017. (AFP/Mohamed al-Bakour)
Syrian children receive treatment following a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, April 4, 2017. (AFP/Mohamed al-Bakour)

The high-level security cabinet on Sunday agreed to weigh a proposal to bring Syrian children wounded in last week’s chemical weapons attack to Israel for treatment.

The proposal — which was put forth by Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz — received the support of all of the members of the security cabinet, with the exception of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, according to Hebrew-language media reports.

Liberman and the security establishment are said to oppose the move due to the difficulty of having to coordinate it with Turkey.

While Israel has helped thousands of wounded Syrians, its policy has been to only treat those who make it to the Golan Heights border. Reaching out to treat children from the Idlib-area attack would mark a shift.

Cabinet members agreed to examine the issue further and voiced support for the proposal, but stopped short of adopting any binding measures.

Katz said Israel should be a moral example, given the history of the Jewish people, according to the Ynet news site. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan touted the measure as giving the country a positive image abroad, according to the report.

Netanyahu’s office said there was no vote on the matter and it was only being explored, adding that taking in refugees for resettlement was not being considered.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen next to Transportation Minister Israel Katz at the weekly cabinet meeting at Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem on September 4, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen next to Transportation Minister Israel Katz at the weekly cabinet meeting at Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem on September 4, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

On Tuesday, at least 86 people died, including 27 children, in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in the Idlib province following a deadly suspected chemical weapons attack by the Syrian regime.

Results from post-mortems performed on victims point to exposure to the deadly nerve agent sarin, according to Turkish health officials who treated some of the wounded.

Following the attack, a number of senior Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said they were “shocked and outraged” by the use of chemical weapons, but stopped short of calling for Israel to take any concrete measures.

A Syrian man collects samples from the site of a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun, in Syria's northwestern Idlib province, on April 5, 2017. (AFP/Omar Haj Kadour)
A Syrian man collects samples from the site of a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun, in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, on April 5, 2017. (AFP/Omar Haj Kadour)

Netanyahu has also been outspoken in supporting US military action against the Syrian regime, following airstrikes on Thursday on the airfield from where the chemical attack was allegedly launched.

Before the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on Sunday, Netanyahu said the US missile strike was done for “moral reasons.”

“Israel fully supports the American attack on Syria,” he said, while adding that “they did this for moral reasons in light of the difficult scenes from Idlib and also to make it clear that there is a price for using chemical weapons.”

Israel has taken pains to stay out of the Syrian conflict, though it has reportedly carried out airstrikes against weapons transfers and has fired retaliatory missiles at Syrian army positions following stray fire over the border. Though other countries bordering Syria have taken in millions of refugees, Israel has kept its border shut and a plan to take in 100 Syrian orphan refugees reportedly fizzled out earlier this year.

In the Golan Heights, Israeli military medics assist wounded Syrians, April 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)
In the Golan Heights, Israeli military medics assist wounded Syrians, April 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Dusan Vranic)

Although it has not taken in any refugees, Israel says that since 2013, it has quietly treated 3,000 Syrian casualties who were spirited across the border into Israel by the IDF for medical treatment at special field hospitals or in Israeli medical centers.

On Sunday, the IDF released video footage from Thursday of army medics treating seven Syrians wounded in their country’s civil war who were allowed to cross the border into Israel for medical treatment.

While the numbers are a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded in the six-year Syrian war, both doctors and patients say the program has changed perceptions and helped ease tensions across the hostile border.

Dr. Salman Zarka, director of Ziv Medical Center in the northern Israeli town of Safed, said his hospital has delivered 19 Syrian babies and sends prescriptions with patients back into Syria.

“All this makes it more human, more complicated,” Zarka said, adding that he worries about patients he knows on a first name-basis who have returned to Syria.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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