Israeli authorities in the Golan Heights have launched a campaign urging local residents to donate toys, games, and clothes to displaced Syrians near the northern border who fled bombardment by Syrian government forces.
On Friday, the Israeli military announced it had provided several tons of humanitarian aid to southwestern Syria, but would not be accepting the tens of thousands of refugees from the area who had begun streaming toward the Israeli border.
The operation lasted “several hours,” the army said, and some 300 tents, 13 tons of food, 15 tons of baby food, three pallets of medical supplies, and 30 tons of clothes and shoes were delivered to the refugees.
“The refugees arrived with no basic equipment for dignified living,” Eli Malka, head of the Golan Regional Council, said in a statement on Sunday night. “Alongside the IDF’s humanitarian activities in recent days, I have ordered the opening of a center for collecting supplementary equipment, to let the refugees live in a humane way.”
Malka said the collection will take place in the coming days in the various Golan Heights communities, after which the items will be transferred to the military and eventually to the Syrians.
“We would be glad for every family to prepare a sealed bag for a Syrian child with small games and toys, drawing paper, crayons and non-melting candy, to give them a moment of sweet, innocent joy,” Malka said.
A flier sent to Golan residents listed more items that could be donated, such as shoes and sandals, clothes for boys and men, baby bottles, pacifiers, pots, pans, and bottles of mineral water.
The pamphlet also asked for toys in the form of dolls, stuffed animals, and cars, stating that “the goal is for every kid/refugee to have a comforting item.”
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.
“These are our neighbors and we regard it as a mitzvah [Jewish religious duty] to help them in their time of need,” Malka said.
On Friday night, the IDF brought six wounded Syrian nationals, four of them reportedly newly orphaned children, into the country for treatment in a local hospital, in a “unique and complex medical operation,” the army said.
The six Syrians were among those injured in Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s renewed offensive against the remaining rebel holdouts in southwestern Syria. Earlier on Friday evening, local leaders in the area made contact with Israel in order to transfer the injured, the Israel Defense Forces said on Saturday night.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said following the aid operation that Israel was “prepared to provide any humanitarian assistance to civilians, women, and children,” but stressed that “we will not accept any Syrian refugees into our territory.”
Israel and Syria technically remain at war.
The army said it shipped the supplies to four camps simultaneously in the southern and central Syrian Golan Heights.
“In these camps, located near the border, there are several thousand Syrians living in deteriorating conditions, without access to water, electricity, food sources, or basic necessities. In recent days, there’s been an increase in the number of Syrians living in these camps,” the IDF said.
Signaling that the humanitarian crisis is likely to deepen, UN officials said that because of the fighting, no aid has entered from Jordan to reach the estimated 50,000 people displaced since Tuesday. Jordan, which is already hosting 660,000 registered refugees, says it cannot accept any more and has sealed its border, despite appeals from aid groups.
Israel has been providing aid to southwestern Syria since 2013, including treating chronically ill children who have no access to hospitals, facilitating the construction of clinics in Syria, and supplying hundreds of tons of food, medicine, and clothing to war-ravaged villages across the border.
Judah Ari Gross and AP contributed to this report.