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Syrian war victims forge unlikely bond with Israeli medics

Israel has been providing medical care to Syria’s wounded at the border, even though the countries are long-standing enemies.


QUNEITRA OBSERVATION POINT—Wounds from the Syrian civil war bring them to the doorstep of a decades-old enemy.

Some have been shot. Others suffer burns from barrel-bomb explosions. Many have life-threatening wounds. Some cross the border in a state of hysteria; others are frightened they are about to be imprisoned by the Israeli army.

Instead, there are reassuring words in foreign-accented Arabic from Sgt. Michel Pushkov, a 21-year old medic. “Don’t worry. We’re friends. We’re going to take care of you.”

The soldier is part of an Israeli military medical unit that for the last three years has been providing first aid at the border to hundreds of Syrians seeking assistance, even though the two countries remain in a state of war. Some 2, 000 have been transferred from the border for treatment to Israeli hospitals.

Before the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, such outreach was unthinkable. The two countries fought three times between 1948 and 1973, and fought a proxy war in Lebanon. In 1981, Israel annexed Syria’s Golan Heights in a unilateral action opposed by the United Nations. Today, the Syrian regime remains allied with Israel’s biggest foe — Iran — while some of the Islamist opposition have pledged to strike at Israel eventually.

The medical help is a modest humanitarian gesture by Israel — other countries in the region have absorbed millions of refugees. But it is eroding long-held stereotypes.

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