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Sympathy, Secrecy, Strategy: How Some Israelis Offer Support To Syrian Civilians

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Israel has tried not to get dragged into the fighting next door in Syria, but some Israelis have tried to lend a hand to Syrian civilians. NPR's Daniel Estrin reports on Israeli aid efforts. Some of them involve sympathy, secrecy and strategy.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: I was asked not to identify this warehouse, where Israeli volunteers prepared boxes of medicine to be sent to Syria. An organizer who invited me says the Israeli company that runs the warehouse didn't want to be publicly associated with the project. One volunteer, Yotvat Fireizen-Weil, tells me her family doesn't support her activism for Syrians.

YOTVAT FIREIZEN-WEIL: (Through interpreter) My brothers are all military and security men. Protecting Israel is a very, very significant part of our family. It's not easy for them what I'm doing. At first, I think they didn't understand. Like, are you crazy? These are our enemies.

ESTRIN: Israel and Syria have battled each other in the past and are technically still at war, but she was moved by images of the human tragedy happening next door. So she and other Israelis organized a fund drive for children's medical supplies and raised more than half a million dollars. Volunteer Zohar Kaplan says his grandmother also chipped in some money. Her relatives were killed in the Holocaust.

ZOHAR KAPLAN: And she said, you know, my family was a refugee. Our people were refugees. And it's amazing that now we have a country, and we can help other people who are suffering.

ESTRIN: The medical supplies were handed off to an Israeli nonprofit called Israeli Flying Aid, which says it delivered the supplies inside Syria. Founder Gal Lusky doesn't want her Syrian partners to be endangered by being found to work with the Israeli enemy, so she gives few details.

GAL LUSKY: Well, I can't tell you much, and you probably understand why. But all the supplies entered nine different hospitals in Syria. We succeeded doing that.

ESTRIN: There are other Israeli aid efforts. Doctors have helped refugees in Greece. Israeli hospitals have treated Syrians wounded in the war, and Israeli leaders have spoken proudly of that. The Israeli army recently announced it has started to deliver food, supplies and fuel to Syrians on the border with the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967.

(SOUNDBITE OF ENGINE RUNNING)

ESTRIN: This footage provided by the military, filmed with a night-vision camera, shows soldiers pumping fuel through a tube running through Israel's security fence into Syria. The border areas are controlled by a patchwork of rebel and regime forces. And Israel has exchanged fire with some. I asked Udi Dekel, who used to direct the Israeli army's strategic planning, why the army helps Syrian civilians there.

UDI DEKEL: First of all, to be nice. There is a murder on the other side of the border, but there is another objective. The local communities, we told them, we are going to support you. But your mission is to convince those armed organizations, rebels and others in the Golan Heights, not to attack Israel. That was the deal. And it works very well until now.

ESTRIN: Israel gets relative quiet along the border, and the 200,000 Syrian civilians estimated to be living along the border get some help from Israel. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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