Israeli Hospitals Threaten to Stop Treating Syrians

Syrian hospital patient
A Syrian youth lies on a hospital bed as he receives medical treatment in Ziv Medical Center in Safed, northern Israel January 19. Israeli hospitals threatened Sunday to stop medical treatment for Syrians unless the Israeli government paid them money. Reuters/Baz Ratner

Israeli hospitals will stop treating non-emergency cases of Syrian patients transported to the country because of the effects of the civil war from next week if the government does not reimburse the costs of years of treatment, a health official said Sunday.

Dr. Orly Weinstein, director of the Israeli Health Ministry unit that oversees government medical centers, told the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the government had only partially paid the cost of treating thousands of Syrians for more than three years.

She said the Israeli hospitals tasked with treating Syrian nationals could not cope with the ongoing financial costs, the Associated Press reported. Weinstein did not respond to Newsweek 's attempts to reach her for comment.

Israeli Health Ministry spokesman Eyal Basson told Newsweek via email that the Israeli government is not sticking to promises that it would provide financial assistance to the hospitals treating Syrian patients. Basson did not say if these agreements between the government and the Health Ministry were made in writing or verbally.

"The issue is complex and has been going on for a long time. Unfortunately…the matter of Ministry of Defense payment for the services rendered has been agreed upon, but the arrangement is not actually being implemented and in reality, the payments have not been made," he wrote.

"The minister of health states that we will not abide by the continuation of such conduct, which at the end of the day harms the medical services to the citizens of the country, and clarified that if the issue is not resolved, he will not hesitate to order an end of the above-mentioned arrangement."

Read more: Inside Israel's secret war in Syria

According to the Israeli Health Ministry, four Israeli hospitals have treated more than 2,000 Syrians since 2013, many of whom required significant amounts of surgery. Israel had treated wounded members of Al-Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front, now named Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, on a humanitarian basis but they halted this in mid-2015 after members of the Israeli Druze community attacked the wounded rebels being transported in Israeli military ambulances.

In December, Netanyahu instructed the foreign ministry to look at ways in which Israel could accommodate and treat Syrian children and non-combatant men in the country's hospitals. He focused on civilians caught up in the battle for the northern Syrian city of Aleppo between the forces of President Bashar al-Assad and rebel groups.

"We see the tragedy of terrible suffering of civilians and I've asked the Foreign Ministry to seek ways to expand our medical assistance to the civilian causalities of the Syrian tragedy, specifically in Aleppo where we're prepared to take in wounded women and children, and also men if they're not combatants," Netanyahu said.

"We'd like to do that: Bring them to Israel, take care of them on our hospitals as we've done with thousands of Syrian civilians. We're looking into ways of doing this; it's being explored as we speak."

Netanyahu's office did not respond to a written request for comment on Weinstein's comments at the time of writing.

While many of the Syrian civilians treated in Israel return to Syria, members of Israel's political elite have called for the acceptance of Syrian refugees into the country. Millions have fled Syria during almost six years of civil war, most to its Arab neighbors and not Israel.

But in September, Isaac Herzog, leader of the Zionist Union party, Netanyahu's foremost opposition, said Israel should act, evoking memories of the Holocaust and the safe haven given to many Jews from Nazi persecution.

"I call on the government of Israel to act toward receiving refugees from the war in Syria, in addition to the humanitarian efforts it is already making," Herzog said. "Jews cannot be indifferent while hundreds of thousands of refugees are looking for safe haven."