By D. Bender
An exiled Syrian rebel leader visited countrymen wounded in fighting being treated at an Israeli hospital this week, in a first-ever such visit by a senior Syrian official, Israel’s NRG News reported Thursday.
“After what Assad has taught us, we see who is the enemy,” 57-year-old opposition leader, Dr. Kamal Al-Labwani, who is living in Turkey, said during his visit, delayed until now for fear of showing recognition of support for the Jewish state. He is here, after attending the International Conference on Counter-Terrorism, held in Herzliya.
During his week-long visit, in which Al-Labwani was to meet with top government officials, he will be joined by Israeli-American businessman, Moti Kahana. Kahana is involved in humanitarian activities for Syrian civil war victims, and is active in efforts to remove the remaining Jews in the country.
Al-Labwani’s visit to the Sieff Hospital in Safed, was in doubt due to fears that Israel would be seen taking a particular side in the bloody three-year conflict, taking place only several dozen kilometers away in the Golan Heights.
So far, Israel has constantly been careful not to be seen taking sides in the civil war, apart from providing humanitarian assistance when needed.
“The visit was amazing,” Al-Labwani said.
“For 60 years, Assad has taught us that Israel is the enemy, and now he slaughters us and Israel is taking care of us. Then who is the killer and who is the enemy?” Al-Labwani asked, rhetorically.
A founding member of the Syrian National Council, and Liberal Democratic Union, Al-Labwani, suggested that making peace was “…up to the government of Israel. I think we can open the road, we can cooperate, we can create a new process for peace in Syria and the whole region. But both sides need to understand each other and listen to each other,” he told Israel’s i24 News.
He has suggested turning the Golan Heights into “an international peace park” and opening its tourist sites to the entire world.
“The settlers who want to remain can remain, those who want to return to Israel or elsewhere can go. As for the original [Arab] inhabitants of the Golan, they will have to chose between returning to their land and being compensated,” he said, according to The Times of Israel.
So far, he had visited Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. “We are neighbors and we can be friends,” he told hospital officials.
The Syrian official added that “The message that comes out of the hospital is the most powerful. Strong humanitarian care is preferable to armies and war, and I hope to find a way to make peace. That’s the message I hope comes out of the hospital.”
During his hospital visit, Al-Labwani met with Syrians wounded in battle, as well as with women and children who were wounded during the fighting.
He told about his meeting with a 12-year-old boy who was severely injured and blinded by shelling on his home in a suburb of Damascus.
“He told me about his big brother bringing him on a donkey to Israel, because there was no one to treat him [in Syria]. He said when his injuries heal, he wants to go back to fight those who tried to kill him. This is the face of this struggle, Al-Labwani said.
“This meeting will not be forgotten,” he said, and emphasized how the visit to the hospital “surprised him.”
Al-Labwani served two prison terms, from 2001 to 2011. The first, over activities to promote respect for Syrian democratic discourse in the “Damascus Spring,” and the second time following a visit to Washington, where he met with American officials to discuss promoting democratic processes in Syria.
In the past two years, Al-Labwani has been raising funds for the victims of the war in Syria, has met with members of Congress and American government officials, with Israeli defense officials and Knesset members, in hopes of persuading them to act on behalf of the Syrian people.