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United Hatzalah rescue team ends Turkey op amid security threat

The 25 volunteers were flown back to Israel on Dr. Miriam Adelson's private jet due to the immediacy of the risk.

Israel Defense Forces and United Hatzalah rescue personnel in Gaziantep, Turkey, Feb. 8, 2023. Credit: United Hatzalah.
Israel Defense Forces and United Hatzalah rescue personnel in Gaziantep, Turkey, Feb. 8, 2023. Credit: United Hatzalah.

Israel-based United Hatzalah ended its search and rescue mission in Turkey on Sunday amid an imminent security threat.

The decision came following a situational assessment led by the head of the Israel Defense Forces’ 400-plus-strong humanitarian delegation sent to Turkey last week in the wake of the massive earthquakes that killed more than 28,000 people in that country and Syria.

The United Hatzalah team was flown back to Israel on Dr. Miriam Adelson’s private jet due to the urgency of the threat and the unavailability of other flights.

“We knew that there was a certain level of risk in sending our team to this area of Turkey, which is close to the Syrian border, but we took the necessary steps in order to mitigate the threat for the sake of our lifesaving mission,” said United Hatzalah Vice President of Operations Dov Maisel.

“Unfortunately, we have just received intelligence of a concrete and immediate threat on the Israeli delegation and we have to put the security of our personnel first. We are extremely proud of what our team has accomplished in just a few days, assisting in the rescue of 15 individuals in cooperation with the IDF Home Front Command, Israel’s Search and Rescue units, local rescue forces, and the Turkish Red Cross. I want to thank Dr. Adelson for assisting us in bringing our people back quickly and safely,” he added.

United Hatzalah, the world’s largest volunteer emergency medical service, had a team of 25 volunteers on the ground in Turkey.

The operation was headed by IDF Maj. (res.) Yossi Cohen, a United Hatzalah volunteer who is also a reservist in the Home Front Command’s Liaison Unit. The team of volunteers was selected from a pool of 400 United Hatzalah members who had volunteered to go.

The IDF has sent 230 medical and emergency response experts to set up a field hospital in Kahramanmaraş, and a 150-member Home Front Command search and rescue team.

The medical team at the field hospital has treated nearly 200 people so far, including Syrian refugees living in the country.

On Friday evening, Israeli rescue teams pulled a 9-year-old boy from under a collapsed building after he had been trapped for more than 120 hours.

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