Israel has for the past year treated hundreds of Syrians and sent hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid in a new project dubbed "Operation Good Neighbor," the IDF disclosed on Wednesday.
Launched in June 2016, the initiative was launched with the goal of increasing civilian aid for Syrians while maintaining the principle of non-involvement in the Syrian civil war. More than 110 new aid operations have taken place since August 2016 as part of the initiative.
"This project has a significant impact on Israel's security," Brig.-Gen. Yaniv Ashur said during a briefing with journalists close to the border, adding that "we have learned from the Americans who lost the Iraqi population. We realized that we could do more for the population near our border than what we were doing at the time."
While Israel has largely stayed out of the fighting taking place across its northern border, the IDF has begun working with international organizations and donors to transfer aid to over 200,000 Syrians living in villages close to the Israeli border.
According to Ashur, the IDF is in contact with the Syrians across the border in order to determine what exact aid is needed and when.
"We have several contact people who deal with one specific issue, be it those who need medical care, water, electricity, education or food," he said.
In the past year alone, over 360 tons of food and flour, 456,000 liters of gas, 100 tons of clothes (55 tons of warm clothes), 12 tons of shoes as well as generators and mobile caravans to use as clinics or classrooms have been given to Syrian civilians with the help of the IDF.
In addition, 12,000 packages of baby formula and 1,800 packages of diapers have been sent across the border as well as 600 meters of piping to re-establish ruined water infrastructure, giving 5,000 people running water in the villages.
One of the major aspects of the operation remains treating injured and sick Syrians.
The IDF began treating wounded and sick Syrians in 2013 and since then over 3,000 Syrians have been treated in Israel. In the last year alone, over 1,000 children have been treated in Israel.
"Once a week a busload of sick children comes into Israel," Ashur said, adding that the army "realized that we also need to provide follow up visits for them," especially those who have chronic illnesses.
According to him, over 600 children and their parents come to Israel every month for medical treatment. All children return to Syria with backpacks full of clothes while their mothers return with backpacks full of medicine that their child might need.
While those who arrive at the Syria-Israel border are both combatants and civilians, all wounded are given emergency field treatment to stabilize them before the IDF transfers them to medical centers. There medical care is provided free of charge and patients are treated under strict anonymity out of fear that they and their families could be targeted in Syria if their time in Israel becomes public.
According to Ashur, 70% of the wounded treated by Israel are men of fighting age while the other 30% are women and children. Most are transported by ambulance to Nahariya’s Western Galilee Hospital (70%) or Ziv Medical Center in Safed (20%), others can only be treated in hospitals in the center of the country such as Sheba Medical Center, near Tel Aviv.
While the field hospital established over the border in 2013 has since been shut down, in two weeks a new field hospital will be opened with two doctors each able to treat 30 patients a day.
The field hospital, which is being built by the IDF, will be run by an American organization and has the ability to grow to house 16-18 doctors, therefore providing care to over 500 patients per day. While it will not be able to care for any wounded fighters from the Syrian conflict or those who may need surgery, it will provide care similar to those provided in any medical clinic.
"Israel is saving lives on a daily basis and we are working hard to improve the humanitarian situation on the ground. We will continue to do so and grow the project as needed," the senior officer said.
"No one knows what the future of Syria will look like. This project has the potential to have a great impact on the future."