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Middle East

Caught up in the Syrian conflict

The Syrian conflict is claiming countless innocent victims, many of them young children from Syrian families who are being treated in hospitals in the Golan Heights, close to the Israeli-Syrian border.

Eight-year-old girl Aya is unaware of the ongoing conflict around her - even though it has left her lying severely wounded in a hospital bed in northern Israel.

When asked what she thinks about being in Israel, the coy Syrian girl is unaware of what that means. "What is Israel?" she says in Arabic.

Aya is in Ziv hospital, in the northern Israeli city of Safed, with her mother Om omar, 42.They were walking outside their home in Dara, a southern city bordering Jordan, when a bomb blast tore Aya's legs apart. One of her mother's feet was badly severed. Their last names have been removed to protect them from being targeted if they return to Syria. A month ago the Israeli Defense Force took them to the Israeli hospital, around 35 kilometers (21 miles) from the Israel-Syria border in the Golan Heights. Since then Aya has had five operations to save her legs.

Plastic surgeon Kassis Shokrey believes that if she had been treated anywhere else her legs would have been amputated.

While talking to the pair, a dressing is being changed on Om omar's still-gaping wound on her foot - the exposed bone and flesh are an unbelievable sight.

Eight-year-old Syrian girl Aya has undergone five operations to save her legs from amputation Copyright: Kate Shuttleworth, DW, Golan Heights, August 2013

Aya has undergone five operations to save her legs

"We are waiting for the skin cover to cover this bone, using a system called vacuum-assisted closure therapy. It's a new treatment that can help to cover the bone and then to do a skin graft to cover the defect," the doctor says.

Syrian victims

Most of the seven Syrians being treated at Ziv hospital are victims of shrapnel wounds, but one man Khaled, 35, is in critical condition in the intensive care unit with a gun shot wound to the stomach.

He is gasping for breath and is so badly injured he cannot speak. Shokrey said Khaled was still alive against all odds.

Calin Shapira, the deputy director of the hospital, said the hospital opened its doors to the seven heavily wounded Syrian civilians six months ago. "That's a lot, even for a very big hospital. Since that day we've had heavily wounded Syrians arriving on a regularly basis, sometimes on a daily basis."

Syrian suffering is not new

Shapira says that since February this year, 76 wounded Syrians had arrived at the hospital for treatment, mainly women, children and the elderly.

"A lot of these people arrived with a lot of fears about being treated by Israelis and they had fears about meeting the Israeli army for the first time," Shapira said.

He did not know where the Syrian patients would go when their treatment was complete, but Israel's policy has been to send them back to Syria.

Shapira says he expects more wounded Syrian people to arrive across the border, the cost of treating them has already reached $1.5 million.

"The hospital will continue to treat wounded people, no matter if they are from an enemy state, or if they are civilians or combatants," he says.

The Syrians who have died from a chemical attack never made it across the border, said Shapira, there simply was no time for them to make it to any hospital in the border region as the chemicals acted too quickly.

Conflict and violent attacks are not new to the hospital, it has surveillance footage of the emergency department being bombed in 2006 during the second Lebanese war, when 1,500 Lebanese people were treated there.

High price

Majdal Shams. The dirt road in the distance is the border with Syria Copyright: Kate Shuttleworth, DW, Golan Heights, August 2013

Majdal Shams. The dirt road in the distance is the border with Syria

In the past two weeks Syria has been getting people's attention, but the civil war in the country has been going on for two-and-a-half years. Druze activist Tayseer Miri'e, who is head of an NGO, said the price the Syrian people were paying due to the civil war was very high. "More force and more power in Syria is not going to solve any problems - the issue should be dealt with by the Syrians."

He says those that had used chemical weapons should be punished. "The Americans will try and use what happened in Damascus as a good excuse to interfere inside Syria. I don't think using more power in Syria will lead to a solution, it will be the opposite - if the Americans attack, which is almost clear, I think we will see more Syrians killed by more aggression. The Syrians will still pay the price of this conflict."

Miri'e also says that Israels had a "long hand" in this conflict. "The Israelis are watching what's going on in Syria - they have lots of information coming to them and they know how to play dirty games and to pretend they are outside of what's going on."

Quiet at the border

Looking directly out across to Syria at the northern-most point of Israel in the Golan Heights and into the southern Syrian city New-Quneitra, the border seems calm.

The people in nearby towns seem relaxed. In Majdal Shams, a Druze-Syrian town on the foothills of Mount Hermon, people seem to have few fears. A 20-minute drive away in Katzrin, the predominantly Jewish community brushes off suggestions that gas masks are required and that an attack is imminent.

Katzrin sports shop owner Klod Ben Yehuda, 53, believes he is safe Copyright: Kate Shuttleworth, DW, Golan Heights, August 2013

Katzrin sports shop owner Klod Ben Yehuda, 53, believes he is safe

Sports shop owner Klod Ben Yehuda, 53, says daily life is going on as usual and that he doesn't need a gas mask. "My wife got it for my four children six months ago, but not because of recent events. We know wars already, it's not something new for us, we're used to it, we have been trained to deal with it."

He said there was a shelter in his apartment, but the only use it gets is when his children play in there. As a final thought Ben Yehuda says people in Syria should be helped but also warns that any US strike would further oppress people.

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