Israel sends medical team to Armenia to treat blast victims as country’s only synagogue vandalized by PLO-linked group

Israeli doctors arrive in the country to treat hundreds of people after a deadly explosion at a fuel depot.

By TPS and World Israel News Staff

An Israeli medical delegation flew to Armenia on Wednesday after an explosion at a fuel depot killed at least 20 people and injured hundreds more on Sept. 25. The blast took place in the town of Stepanakert, also known as Khankendi, which is located in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, which recently captured by Azerbaijan in a lightning offensive.

Because of the lack of medical facilities and Armenians fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh, the injured are being treated in Yerevan. An estimated 30,000 Armenians fled the region to Armenia.

A 14-person Israeli medical delegation arrived in Yerevan on Saturday at the request of the World Health Organization and the Armenian Ministry of Health, making them the first foreign relief to arrive.

Three days later, the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA), a militant Armenian group that was armed and trained by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in the 1980s, claimed responsibility for an arson attack at the country’s only synagogue, according to Azerbaijan media reports.

Pictures and videos on social media showed masked men smearing red paint the façade of the Mordechay Navi Jewish Religious Center in Yerevan.

“The Jews are the enemies of the Armenian nation, complicit in Turkish crimes and the regime of Aliyev, stained with the blood of the Republic of Armenia,” Azerbijani outlets cited a statement from the group as saying. “This is a warning: our successful operation on October 3 in Yerevan is only the beginning. Every rabbi will be on our radar.”

Israel has come under fire for allegedly providing weapons to Azerbaijan, aiding it in its 24-hour strike last month to bring the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave back under its control.

“For us, it is a major concern that Israeli weapons have been firing at our people,” Arman Akopian, Armenia’s ambassador to Israel, told The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, in Yerevan, the Israeli medical team — which included plastic surgeons, intensive-care doctors, anesthesiologists and nurses who specialize in burns — shared their impressions about treating the blast victims in phone calls with the Tazpit Press Service.

“We are here to do our best, but it’s a drop in the ocean,” said Dr. Yaron Shoham, director of the burn unit at Beer Sheva’s Soroka Medical Center.

“All hospitals here in Yerevan operate in two operating rooms each, three plastic surgeons and two anesthesiologists in each room, in the state of a moving film from morning to night aiming to operate on as many patients as possible,” Shoham said.

Dr. Adi Lotan, senior specialist in plastic surgery at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center told TPS, “The extent of injuries is indescribable. The suffering of people is enormous.”

The cause of the explosion isn’t known, but Lotan said the victims, mostly men ages 20-40, “apparently went to fill up with gas before leaving the area, in a place not intended for that and the explosion apparently caused several more explosions. The assessment there is that it is not an event related to the war.”

She added, “We don’t know exactly what happened there, but maybe one of the pumps exploded and caused the whole disaster.”

The victims will be dealing with recovery long after the Israeli team’s three-week mission ends.

“Each of the wounded here is a project of two or three months,” Shoham explained. “Medical teams who come here after we leave will have to continue to take care of them for many more months. Each injured person with a major burn requires about ten surgeries.”