Israeli teams have rescued five Turkish civilians

With 15 cargo planes, IDF begins setting up field hospital in quake-stricken Turkey

Military ferries hundreds of tons of equipment and 230 medical experts to southeastern Turkey, as 150 Home Front Command soldiers continue to search for survivors under the rubble

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

A team of IDF personnel lands in Turkey on February 8, 2023, to set up a field hospital to treat those wounded in the devastating earthquake two days earlier. (IDF)
A team of IDF personnel lands in Turkey on February 8, 2023, to set up a field hospital to treat those wounded in the devastating earthquake two days earlier. (IDF)

A large Israel Defense Forces aid delegation landed in southeastern Turkey on Wednesday afternoon to establish a field hospital to treat victims of the devastating earthquake that has killed thousands of people, the military said.

The IDF said 15 Air Force cargo planes carried hundreds of tons of equipment and some 230 participants —  including search and rescue experts, military medics and Health Ministry doctors, nurses and paramedics — to Turkey to set up the hospital in the evening hours.

“We are very proud to be on the aiding side and to assist the Turkish nation in its difficult hour,” said Brig. Gen. Gilad Keinan, the commander of the Nevatim Airbase in southern Israel. “This action reflects the IDF’s values and Israel’s values.”

The IDF already has some 150 search and rescue experts on the ground working to rescue civilians trapped under the rubble. So far, the teams from the IDF’s Home Front Command have rescued five Turkish civilians.

The hospital was to be built near where the search and rescue teams were operating in the city of Kahramanmaraş, also known as Marash, according to IDF spokesman Ran Kochav.

The military published footage of some of the rescues, including of a 2-year-old boy who was pulled out of the rubble on Wednesday morning. Cpt. Alon Hominer, a member of the Home Front Command search and rescue team, said the engineering operation lasted several hours.

“We received a report from Turkish [authorities] that there were sounds of a baby crying, and we joined in the efforts,” Hominer said. He said the toddler was in good health and is being taken to a hospital.

Overnight Tuesday, the Home Front Command teams rescued three other civilians, including a 23-year-old woman and a 12-year-old boy.

In the afternoon hours of Wednesday, a 15-year-old girl was successfully pulled out of a collapsed building by Israeli and local rescuers.

Home Front Command soldiers and other Israeli rescue teams were continuing work to assist local authorities in rescuing others trapped underneath the rubble.

Israeli and local rescue teams working at the site of a building collapse in Marash, Turkey, February 8, 2023. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday afternoon, the head of the aid delegation, Col. (Res.) Golan Vach, said the Israeli teams had seen successes.

“I think that the state [of Israel] and the Home Front Command know how to carry out such tasks in a short time. The speed with which we reached the scene is what brought us to these results and I hope we will achieve more results soon,” he said.

Vach said such IDF aid delegations usually last between nine and 14 days, and in this case, were ready to stay that long.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Vach on Wednesday, commending him on the team’s efforts.

“You are carrying out the most important humanitarian work and are bringing great honor to the State of Israel, and showing our true face to the world,” Netanyahu told Vach via phone. “Do whatever you can to save lives, and stay safe.”

Collapsed buildings are seen in Antakya, southern Turkey, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023. Nearly two days after the magnitude 7.8 quake struck southeastern Turkey and northern Syria, thinly stretched rescue teams work to pull more people from the rubble of thousands of buildings. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

The military has dubbed the aid operation “Olive Branches.”

The IDF Home Front Command is regularly dispatched around the world to assist in natural disasters, including earthquakes, wildfires, flooding and building collapses.

The Israeli military field hospital is also regularly dispatched to disaster zones to provide humanitarian relief.

Israeli and local rescue teams work to retrieve survivors from the rubble of collapsed buildings in Kahramanmaras, on February 8, 2023, following a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck southeast Turkey. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

Several delegations of Israeli medics from emergency organizations have also headed to Turkey to assist local authorities in treating victims of the earthquake.

The Foreign Ministry was weighing an additional flight to Turkey containing humanitarian items and medicine.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Israel also plans to send aid to Syria, including tents, medication and blankets.

But Syrian sources vigorously denied requesting aid from Israel, and IDF spokesman Kochav told reporters that the military was not involved in potential aid to Syria.

Israel considers Syria a hostile state, and the two do not have diplomatic ties. However, during the neighboring country’s bloody civil war, the IDF carried out a massive humanitarian operation to aid Syrian civilians.

IDF search and rescue teams begin operating in a bid to find survivors after an earthquake in Turkey on February 7, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The earthquake death toll was at least 11,700 people in both Turkey and Syria as of Wednesday afternoon.

Hundreds were still believed to be trapped under rubble, and the toll was expected to rise as rescue workers searched mounds of wreckage in cities and towns across the area.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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