Wounded Syrians Left Bleeding With The Enemy

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Nahariya Hospital has treated 86 Syrian patients. Pic: Oren Peles

Nahariya Hospital has treated 86 Syrian patients. Pic: Oren Peles

By Sam Kiley, Middle East Correspondent, Sky News, Naharia

As some Israeli Arabs join rebels fighting Assad, the Jewish state is quietly engaged in efforts to treat wounded Syrians.

A hint of a rueful smile plays across his face as Zaaki Juma’a tells me he is glad his son is dead. What else can he say?

Muayed was 26. A year into marriage. A devout Muslim who left his village to go and fight in Syria and did not come back.

His family gathered to mourn him the day after they found out first that he had even gone to join the rebels against Bashar al Assad, and second that he had died there when they got an email and a photograph of his bullet riddled body.

There had been no explanation. No final letter of farewell and no news of the two friends who had gone with him.

Perhaps there never will be. Not least because the dead man and his comrades are Israelis – citizens of a country that is technically at war with Syria.

The Jewish State has been trying to keep the unfolding tragedy of Syria at arm’s length. But like all of Syria’s neighbours, it has been unable to resist the contagion of the war.

Mr Juma’a insisted that his son had died a martyr. That he had achieved what he set out to and would find heavenly reward for his sacrifice.

“It does not matter if you are an Israeli, or whatever passport you carry, if you are a Muslim and your fellow Muslims are suffering then you should help,” Mr Juma’a says, clutching a photograph of the heavily bearded son he did not understand. Mr Juma’a is not religious.

“I have to respect his decisions,” he says. “He has found his paradise.”

Around 10 Israeli Arabs are believed to have travelled to Syria to join rebel groups, most likely through Turkey. One is reported to have been arrested on return to Israel. Maed is the first to have been killed.

Israeli-held territory on the Golan Heights is regularly hit by stray mortars and artillery from fighting inside Syria and the Israeli defence forces have also engaged Syrian targets when they have been shot at.

But the Jewish State, which has also conducted air raids against weapons convoys believed to be heading to Hizbollah in Lebanon, is keen to stay out of the conflict for fear of triggering an escalation with the Lebanese guerrillas who have an arsenal of 40,000 rockets aimed at Israel.

The Israeli military has also, though, been quietly engaged in a humanitarian effort to treat wounded Syrians who are smuggled to one of its field hospitals on the Golan and on to intensive care units deeper into the country.

This secret pipeline of wounded ends at either the Safed or Nahariya Hospitals.

Dr Jean Soustiel, director of neurosurgery at Nahariya Hospital, which has treated a total of 86 Syrian patients, says many of them arrive with wounds that indicate attempted execution – gun shots to the back of the head and axe wounds.

Severely wounded, they most often arrive unconscious and with no idea that they are being treated by Israeli doctors at a hospital that was itself hit by a Hezbollah rockets in 2006.

“They are sometimes very afraid and nervous when they wake up and hear Hebrew being spoken and are told that they are in Israel,” he says.

“But soon they relax as they can feel the warmth around them.”

Syrian patients stay longer in hospital than they would normally because there is no reliable post-operative care back in Syria.

But the staff treating them also know that once back home, the Syrian patients cannot ever reveal that they were treated in Israel.

If they did they would be murdered – and privately some Israeli staff say they have heard of whole families being massacred because of this.

All of the Syrians are returned to their home country. One at least does not want to go home.

Registered, like all Syrian patients as ‘John Doe’, he lies in intensive care recovering from a smashed jaw, shattered leg, and internal injuries.

Dr Nickola Machul, director of intensive care, speaks to him in Arabic and he mimes his replies.

He had five children. Two survived the bomb attack on his village that so severely injured him. Tears cascade down his face as he signals this with his fingers.

Then he repeatedly indicates with both hands that he wants to stay put in Israel forever, a refugee in limbo hosted by his own country’s enemies.