'We used to treat Lebanese all through the 1980s and 1990s'

Israeli MD to Lebanon: ‘Please, please put politics aside, accept our help’

If Lebanese are prevented from receiving Israeli medical assistance by Hezbollah, they’ll be victims of group’s ‘terror,’ says Ziv medical center’s Anthony Luder

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

A wounded man sits on the ground waiting for aid at Beirut's port following a massive explosion that hit the heart of the Lebanese capital on August 4, 2020. (AFP)
A wounded man sits on the ground waiting for aid at Beirut's port following a massive explosion that hit the heart of the Lebanese capital on August 4, 2020. (AFP)

Many lives will be needlessly lost if Lebanese wounded in Tuesday’s Beirut port explosion aren’t allowed to go to Israel for treatment because of longstanding enmity between the two countries, Israeli doctors at a hospital near the border warned.

“It will mean unnecessary suffering and death,” Anthony Luder, a senior doctor at Ziv Medical Center in Safed, told The Times of Israel on Wednesday, saying that the entire medical staff is ready for an influx from Beirut, which is just 100 miles away as the crow flies.

Luder warned that if Hezbollah, a Lebanon-based Iran-backed terror group that is also part of the Lebanese government, blocks the treatment, as he fears, “these people will be the victims of Hezbollah terror, no less than people who are shot by the group.”

Hospital director Salman Zarka also expressed skepticism that Hezbollah, in particular its leader Hassan Nasrallah, would permit Lebanese civilians to receive medical treatment in Israel, and pleaded for humanitarian concerns to take precedence.

“I really hope that Nasrallah will allow us to save lives,” he told the Kan public broadcaster on Wednesday afternoon, while acknowledging that the chances are slim.

Supporters of Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group, watch him speak through a giant screen at a mosque in the Lebanese capital Beirut’s southern suburbs on November 1, 2019. (AFP)

Luder issued an emotional appeal, saying: ”Please, please, put politics aside and accept the help we can offer.”

He said: “We used to treat Lebanese all through the 1980s and 1990s,” adding that this stopped because of the growing influence of Hezbollah, which opposes all contact with Israel.

And now, he fears that Hezbollah’s power will stop the wounded from being allowed to accept offers of Ziv, and at least two other Israeli hospitals, for treatment.

Luder, who is the director of the pediatric department and was central to Israeli efforts to treat Syrians at Ziv through much of the Syrian civil war, said Lebanon’s hospitals are not equipped to deal with the mass casualty event, which left over 100 dead in the explosion on the port and thousands wounded.

“The number of people killed in Beirut indicates there are thousands facing health issues, and they just don’t have the facilities to treat them, while other neighbors aren’t in a good situation to help them.”

Dr. Anthony Luder, Director of the Pediatric Department at Ziv Medical Center in Safed. (Screen capture/YouTube)

He commented: “We feel a humanitarian imperative to offer our assistance. We’re stretched during coronavirus, but we’re still in a good position to offer assistance and, sadly, we have lots of experience in trauma and we’re happy to share it.

“We’re all set up and ready, and willing to receive Lebanese people, and if we can treat our neighbors, we’re ready to make whatever efforts are needed.”

As well as Israeli hospitals offering treatment, the Israeli government announced Tuesday night that it had reached out to offer humanitarian help to Lebanon.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated the offer on Wednesday, and said: “We distinguish between the regimes and the people.”

Other countries stepped in to help.

A Qatari air force plane with a cargo of hundreds of collapsible beds, generators and burn sheets touched down in Beirut in the first of a convoy of flights to the Mediterranean country.

Medical supplies from Kuwait also arrived, as the Lebanese Red Cross said more than 4,000 people were being treated for injuries after the explosion, which sent glass shards and debris flying.

Raphael Ahren, AFP contributed to this report. 

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