TEL AVIV (Jun. 28)
The arrival of dozens of Soviet earthquake victims for medical treatment here aboard the first direct El Al flight between Israel and the Soviet Union is creating great excitement and raising hope for better relations between the two countries.
An El Al Boeing 757 brought more than 60 Soviet Armenian earthquake victims, most of them amputees, to Israel late Tuesday night, completing the first stage of a humanitarian mission.
The plane, chartered by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which organized and financed the mission, flew back and forth to Yerevan, the capital of Soviet Armenia, in one day.
The mercy mission received considerable coverage by the official Soviet news media, and the Soviet authorities and people seemed genuinely appreciative.
The Israeli government and El Al hope the reservoir of good will created by the mission will hasten the establishment of direct commercial flights between Moscow and Tel Aviv.
They are especially needed now, if Israel is to divert many of the large numbers of Jews leaving the Soviet Union to its shores instead of the United States or other Western countries.
The patients, many of them children, were carried off the plane or descended on crutches. All were injured in the earthquake that devastated Armenia on Dec. 7.
All of them had been treated by an Israeli medical team that was dispatched to the disaster area at the time.
While in Israel, the amputees will be fitted with artificial limbs. All of the patients will receive further medical treatment and rehabilitation therapy before returning home.
The government-owned Sheba Hospital in Tel Hashomer and the Rambam Hospital in Haifa were selected to provide these services.
MAY UNDERGO IMMEDIATE SURGERY
The patients were scheduled for preliminary examinations Wednesday and some may undergo corrective surgery immediately.
The flight between Tel Aviv and Yerevan took about two-and-a-half hours each way. The pilot routed the plane over Cyprus to avoid Syrian air space and flew straight to Armenia over Turkey.
The flight was accompanied by pool correspondents from the Foreign Press Association, Israeli journalists, a JDC delegation and representatives of the Israel Defense Force.
It also carried five tons of relief clothing to Yerevan.
On the return trip, the patients were accompanied by two Armenian doctors, four nurses and two interpreters.
Two Soviet journalists representing Novosty, the USSR’s external news service, were also on the return flight.
The Soviet government newspaper Izvestia gave the mission front-page coverage Tuesday. A follow-up report appeared Wednesday in Moscow News.
Israeli journalists who made the round trip said the El Al crew and passengers were warmly welcomed by Soviet officials at Yerevan’s airport.
Buses were there to take them to the best hotel in town, where an elaborate spread of cold cuts, cheeses and Armenian delicacies awaited.
There was also a band that gave a rousing rendition of “Hava Nagila.”
Narina Balayan, minister of social welfare of the Soviet Armenian Republic, greeted the Israelis at the hotel dining room, which was festooned with Israeli and Armenian flags.
She expressed profound gratitude for the humanitarian assistance given her people in the aftermath of the earthquake.
“I hope the time will come when planeloads like yours will land in Yerevan without any disaster having prompted their visit,” she said.
The reception was attended by Aryeh Levin, head of the Israeli consular mission in Moscow.
During the stopover of several hours, the Israelis were taken on a tour of Yerevan, which was not damaged by the earthquake, whose epicenter was more than 100 miles away.
Raymond Epstein, chairman of JDC’s Israel Area Committee, said the rescue mission was launched after the organization received an overwhelming response from the American Jewish community to its initial appeal to help Armenian earthquake victims.
“We had a half-million dollars at our disposal and wanted to do something constructive and beneficial with it,” he said.
Aryeh Cooperstock, director of JDC’s international development program, headed his organization’s delegation on the flight.