Israeli medics to remain in Turkey despite security threat claims

The IDF and Magen David Adom insist they are unaware of any risk to rescue workers on the ground


Rescue teams continue to search for victims and survivors amid collapsed buildings after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the border region of Turkey and Syria earlier in the week, in Kahramanmaras on February 13, 2023. - The death toll from a catastrophic earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria climbed above 35,000 on February 13, 2023, with search and rescue teams starting to wind down their work. (Photo by OZAN KOSE / AFP) (Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images)

Israeli medics will continue providing aid to earthquake victims in Turkey, despite one team cutting its mission short over security concerns.

A United Hatzalah team left Turkey on Sunday after learning of a “concrete and immediate threat,” Dov Maisel, the NGO’s vice president of operations, said.

Speaking to the Times of Israel, a spokesperson added: “There were threats against different international delegations to kidnap people and hold them ransom so the government would not be able to fulfill its plan. 

“Not just the Israeli team is wrapping up, but a lot of other teams have started to wrap up because of this as well, because of the way that the locals are taking the government message.”

More details of the threat could not be provided, a spokesperson told the JC, due to a censorship order from the Israeli government. 

The security risk is not specifically targeted at Jews or Israelis, they added. 

An IDF field hospital will continue operating in the devastated southern city of Kahramanmaraş, however, a spokesperson confirmed.

Delegations from the IDF and Magen David Adom told the JC they were not aware of any impending risk to their staff on the ground.

Israeli military workers will remain to operate a field hospital, while MDA volunteers are set to return home after rescuing 19 people.

An Israeli military search and rescue team has now left the country, after the chances of finding any further living survivors among the rubble dropped to zero. 

It would be “the definition of a miracle” to discover anyone else alive, a spokesperson said.

Despite the security concerns expressed by United Hatzalah, IDF medics feel “secure” and happy to remain in Turkey, they added.

While Magen David Adom volunteers will now leave the country, the organisation is not aware of any threat to them, a spokesperson told the JC.

In a statement, paramedic Felix Lotan said the NGO has begun closing its temporary base.

"It was an amazing job and we saved a lot of lives, but we would have been happy to save many more,” he said.

“I am returning to Israel to help and understand how to prepare and implement the treatment methods conducted here in Turkey during the last week, if, God forbid, a disaster of this magnitude will happen in the State of Israel.”

Over the six days after two giant earthquakes hit Turkey and Syria, MDA rescued 19 people from the ruins.

Recalling a particularly emotional rescue, Mr Lotan said: “We arrived late at night to the disaster area in Karamanmarsh.

“Moments later I was already called to assist the teams of the Home Front Command. We were directed to the ruins of a building where a small child was trapped. It was a very complicated rescue, we broke through the basement into an apartment that was above us, where the boy was located. 

“Through the spaces that we created we managed to rescue the child and after I checked him I realised that he was in excellent medical condition. It was very gratifying, but nothing prepared me for the moment when he ran barefoot to his grandfather who was waiting for him outside.”

One week after an initial 7.8 magnitude quake hit Turkey and Syria, the combined death toll across the two countries has passed 37,000.

Speaking in Aleppo, UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said the period in which victims could be rescued alive was now "coming to a close".

International missions are now expected to switch their focus to providing healthcare and shelter.

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