JERUSALEM - Israeli and Palestinian heart surgeons teamed up at an Israeli hospital on Wednesday to operate on three Palestinian girls, under a program to save children's lives despite hostilities between Hamas-ruled Gaza and the Jewish state.
Doctors said the lives of the children - aged 7, 4, and 8 months - would have been in jeopardy without the surgery.
The older children were treated to close holes in their hearts and the baby underwent open heart surgery to correct a congenital heart defect.
"The operations were successful and the girls are doing well," said Dr. Akiva Tamir, head of cardiology at Wolfson Hospital near Tel Aviv.
"We ignore all the politics and we are on great terms with the doctors in Gaza, despite violence and wars," said Tamir, who performed the operations with Dr. Rula Awwad, a Palestinian surgeon from the West Bank.
Israel sealed off its borders with Gaza in June after the violently anti-Israel Hamas took over Gaza last June. Palestinians in Gaza are not allowed into Israel for security reasons but some patients with severe medical conditions are granted entry.
"I didn't expect it to be so easy to come to Israel," 4-year-old Rajed Abu Radwan said after she came out of surgery.
The doctors belong to an Israeli humanitarian group called Save A Child's Heart that treats children suffering from heart problems in conflict zones or areas where medical facilities are not up to par.
Tamir said the program has treated 250 children from Gaza in the past year.
In October the group successfully operated on two Iraqi children with heart disease who were flown in to Israel for surgery.
Since its founding in 1996, Save A Child's Heart has treated 900 children from Gaza and more than 1,000 from Iraq and other Arab states that have no relations with Israel, as well as countries across Africa, program director Simon Fisher said.