Britain’s International Development Secretary Priti Patel discussed providing UK aid to help Israel’s efforts to treat wounded Syrians in the Golan Heights during unauthorized meetings with Israeli officials.
Patel met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and other officials while on a family vacation in Israel in August. UK ministers are required to notify the Foreign Office when conducting official business overseas, but Patel admitted that she failed to do so.
A spokesperson for UK Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed Tuesday that in those meetings, Patel explored the possibility of financing the IDF’s “Operation Good Neighbor” to treat victims of Syria’s civil war who are surreptitiously brought into Israel across its northern border by the army. Patel then asked officials in her department to look into ways of providing the funding.
“The secretary of state did discuss potential ways to provide medical support for Syrian refugees who are wounded and who cross into the Golan for aid,” the spokesman said. “The Israeli army runs field hospitals there to care for Syrians wounded in the civil war. But there is no change in policy in the area. The UK does not provide any financial support to the Israeli army.”
The revelation will add to the pressure Patel is facing over the meetings, even more so as the UK does not recognize Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights that it captured from Syria during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Casualties from Syria’s six-year civil war are taken to hospitals inside Israel several nights each week.
At the same time, Israeli soldiers return Syrians who have received treatment to the disengagement line that divides the Syrian-controlled part of the Golan from that held by Israel.
Israel does not take in refugees from the war, but its army says that it has facilitated the treatment of more than 3,100 wounded in Israeli hospitals since 2013.
On Friday Patel said that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was aware of the meetings, but on Monday she issued a full apology.
“In hindsight, I can see how my enthusiasm to engage in this way could be misread, and how meetings were set up and reported in a way which did not accord with the usual procedures,” she said. “I am sorry for this and I apologize for it.”
Patel met with Netanyahu to discuss “the Israeli domestic political scene,” she said, and to plan his UK visit, which took place last week.
During her trip she also met with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Foreign Ministry Director Yuval Rotem, as well as with business people, charities, and other organizations.
Opposition MPs called for her to resign if she breached the ministerial code of conduct, but a spokesperson for May said that May had accepted Patel’s apology and considered the matter closed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.