Israeli soldiers provided medical treatment to wounded Syrians who approached the border and then transported them to a hospital in Israel for further treatment, the Israel Defense Forces said Saturday. It is the first instance of Syrians finding shelter from their country's civil war in the Jewish state.
An IDF spokeswoman said Israeli soldiers gave the wounded Syrians initial medical treatment near the security fence along the frontier in the Golan Heights, and then evacuated them to an Israeli hospital. She would not elaborate further and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The seven wounded Syrians are receiving treatment at Ziv Medical Center in the northern city of Safed. A hospital spokeswoman said they sustained serious injuries to internal organs and limbs. She said one is in critical condition and the rest are in serious condition.
Israel and Syria have fought several wars and although the two nations are still officially in a state of war, Israel is concerned that if the current regime is toppled Syria could fall into the hands of Islamic extremists. Israel also worries that anti-Israel groups such as Hezbollah could gain access to President Bashar al-Assad's stockpile of chemical weapons. There also are concerns that al-Qaida linked groups battling Assad could turn their focus toward Israel.
"It was on a humanitarian basis," Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon told Channel 2. "Refugees approached the border, received medical treatment, and we decided to bring them in for treatment in our territory in light of their condition." Ya'alon stressed that there had been no change in Israeli policy and that a large influx of Syrians would not be allowed.
It was unclear whether the Syrians are rebels fighting to topple Assad, forces loyal to him or civilians caught in the crossfire.
Syrian activists reported fighting in the Quneitra region on Saturday, which is on the cease-fire line between Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights.
Israel has said its policy is not to become involved in the Syrian civil war. However, it has retaliated to sporadic Syrian fire that has spilled over into Israeli communities in the Golan Heights. Several mortar shells have exploded in orchards, spreading panic, sparking fires and prompting Israeli forces to fire back.
In November, Israeli tanks struck a Syrian artillery launcher after a mortar shell flew into Israeli territory.
The conflict has already spilled over into several of Syria's other neighbors, whether through direct violence or through the flood of refugees fleeing the bloodshed.