The last Jewish family remaining in the Syrian city of Aleppo has been rescued in a daring operation, it has been revealed, as regime, rebel and Islamic State forces continue fierce battles for control of the city.
Preparation for the mission began months in advance. First an Israeli-American businessman named Moti Kahana sent a message to the family, whose name has not been released, that he wanted to get them out of the war-torn country. Despite the constant dangers in Syria, though, the family was too afraid to even take the chance on escaping.
Kahana, who has a number of connections with rebel forces, soon heard reports that ISIS was closing in on the family and decided to get them out, whether they liked it or not.
Without revealing precisely how or with whom he coordinated his plans, Kahana set the wheels in motion for the latest dramatic rescue of stranded Diaspora Jews by the State of Israel.
Once the time came, three rescuers - whose identities have not been revealed - knocked on the family's front door. The 88-year-old matriarch answered, fearing that Assad's soldiers had come to take them all away. Instead, the men ordered the seven people present that they could each take one bag and that they must get into a waiting minibus.
After the minibus began moving, the refugees were handed Syrian passports and told that they would soon be free.
The vehicle was stopped at an ISIS checkpoint, but the family was able to convince the guard that they were refugees trying to escape from Assad. The guard was so impressed by their claims that he even called other checkpoints, instructing them to let the minibus through.
It took them 36 hours to cross the hundred kilometers to the Turkish border. Once out of Syria, they drove to a rented home in Istanbul, where Kahana was waiting.
However, their problems were not yet over.
One woman, who is referred to as Gilda, was married to a Muslim man and had converted to Islam. While the rest of the family quickly received Israeli identity cards and resettled in Ashkelon, the Jewish Agency informed Gilda that people who voluntarily convert to a religion other than Judaism lose their right of return.
According to Kahana, the two chose to return to Syria rather than remain in a Syrian refugee camp inside of Turkey. He says that he is still working to get them out again, but he is less optimistic about a second operation.
"I am so frustrated with the Sochnut," he told the Jewish Chronicle. "They said she is not Jewish enough for us. The Israelis have been trying to hide this story. They screwed up."
A representative of the Jewish Agency confirmed that Gilda and her husband could not make aliyah because she had converted to Islam, and that the Interior Ministry gave the final order on the case.
However, Jewish Agency spokesman Yigal Palmor said they had been given alternative options to enter Israel, for example by applying for a tourism visa in Istanbul - but the couple declined the offer.