Published Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014 | 11:06 a.m.
Updated Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014 | 11:08 a.m.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's prime minister met with wounded Syrians treated at an Israeli hospital Tuesday and blamed Iran for bloodshed in neighboring Syria as world powers meet in Vienna for talks over Tehran's nuclear program.
Benjamin Netanyahu visited a hospital in the Golan Heights where Israeli doctors treat Syrians wounded in the civil war raging across the border. Although Israel and Syria are enemies having fought several wars, Israel provides medical treatment and humanitarian aid for wounded Syrians that reach its border.
Netanyahu's visit came as Iran and world powers are meeting in Vienna over a deal regarding Iran's nuclear program.
"Israel is saving the lives of those who have been wounded in the daily slaughter that is being perpetrated in Syria," Netanyahu said. "This is the true face of Israel," he said.
"The bad part is that Iran is arming those who are carrying out the slaughter. This is the true face of Iran. All of the children who have been injured, to say nothing of those who have been killed, were injured as a result of Iran's arming, financing and training the Assad regime in the massacres that it is perpetrating," Netanyahu said.
Iran is one of Assad's closest allies and has been widely criticized in the West for sending fighters to Syria and for supporting Lebanon's Hezbollah militia, which is battling on the government's side.
Iran and six world powers began talks Tuesday on a comprehensive nuclear deal, trying to overcome deep differences about how much Tehran needs to scale back its atomic program in exchange for an end to crippling economic sanctions.
The talks are to build on a first-step deal that came into effect last month and commits Iran to initial curbs on its nuclear program in return for some easing of sanctions.
Iran insists it is not interested in producing nuclear weapons but the six powers want Tehran to back its words with concessions. They seek an agreement that will leave Iran with little capacity to quickly ramp up its nuclear program into weapons-making mode with enriched uranium or plutonium, which can used for the fissile core of a missile.
Iran's new President Hassan Rouhani has taken a seemingly softer tone toward the West in an outreach that Israel dismisses as a trick aimed at removing crippling economic sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program.
Israel has long claimed a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a grave threat to world peace and security, and it views a nuclear-armed Tehran as a threat to its very existence, citing Iran's repeated calls for Israel's destruction, its long-range missile program and its support for violent anti-Israel groups like the Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Iran insists that its nuclear program is for civilian use.
"From here, I would like to tell the world, today, as the talks between the major powers and Iran are being resumed, that Iran has changed neither its aggressive policy nor its brutal character," Netanyahu said at the hospital. "Iran is continuing to support the Assad regime which is slaughtering its own people. This is the true face of Iran. The world cannot forget this," he said.
Netanyahu met with a wounded Syrian and shook his hand. "We thank you for the treatment and the service. The service is excellent and they treat you well. People smile. We thank you a lot," the man said in Arabic. He spoke anonymously fearing retribution in Syria. Netanyahu also met with an 11 year-old Syrian boy who had been wounded in the eye, Netanyahu wished him a speedy recovery.
The Israeli military said two rockets fired from Syria exploded in the Golan Heights soon after Netanyahu's visit. The rockets caused no injuries or damage. Syrian shells have exploded sporadically inside Israeli territory since the conflict began, causing damage but no injuries. Israel believes most were errant shots but has accused Syria of purposely aiming at Israeli targets on several occasions. Israeli troops have occasionally returned fire.
Israel has been carefully monitoring the Syrian war since it erupted in March 2011. While relations are hostile, the ruling Assad family has kept the border area with Israel quiet for most of the past 40 years. Israel is concerned that Assad's ouster could push the country into the hands of militant Islamic extremists or sectarian warfare, destabilizing the region.
AP Correspondent George Jahn reported from Vienna