Officials of an American-Arab organization said yesterday they will proceed with plans to bring wounded children from Beirut to the United States for medical treatment despite threats by the Israeli government to block the children's evacuation, which they regard as politically motivated.
James Zogby, executive director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, was responding to comments Sunday by Israeli health director Baruch Modan, who said Israel would not permit the evacuation of the children because it was a "propaganda effort" on the part of the committee.
Modan said the Israeli Health Ministry would care for the medical needs of civilians in Lebanon who would be treated in Lebanese or Israeli hospitals. "We see no room for the involvement of this body or any other foreign body," Modan said.
"We have as much concern for our children as the Jews do for theirs [and] the cavalier way in which the Israelis dismiss American Arabs' efforts to help their own shocks us," Zogby said.
The committee hopes to bring at least 50 injured children here and has already selected 37 who need long-term rehabilitation, mostly because of loss of limbs, Zogby said. Fifteen of them already are in Damascus, capital of Syria; 22 are in West Beirut. Zogby said he could not say whether all had been injured since the Israeli invasion June 6; some could be victims of fighting in Lebanon's civil war or of earlier bombing raids by Israel, he said.
The committee asked relief and medical personnel in Beirut to send children who need rehabilitation and work on artificial limbs, Zogby said, adding, "We did not ask them to limit the children to victims of this conflict."
No visa applications have yet been made for the children, the State Department said, but a committee official said instructions were going out Thursday to Beirut to do that.
The Jordanian airline, Alia, has offered free transportation to the United States for 50 children, and the committee has received offers from more than 14 medical facilities in the United States to take the children, fit them with new limbs and give them rehabilitation, Zogby said.
The costs of artificial limbs and other expenses will be covered by contributions from American Arabs, many of whom are Lebanese.
Benjamin Abileah, a spokesman for the Israeli embassy here acknowledged he did not know how Israel could block the children's travel, but added that "I do not see in the immediate future a need to transfer injured children for treatment in the U.S. . . . .[The effort] has propaganda objectives [which are] to continue the myth of a high number of casualties."
William Monsour, medical director of Monsour Medical Center in Jeannette, Pa., one of the facilities offering its services to the children, was incensed at the accusation of propaganda.
"We won't buy that . . . They don't want the American public to see their atrocities," he said.