Israel evacuates White Helmets volunteers from Syria

Marsha Scott
July 23, 2018

Jordanian Foreign Ministry's spokesman Mohammed al-Kayed said the Syrians would remain in a closed area in Jordan for three months before moving on to Britain, Germany and Canada. "There were lots of children", said one Israeli.

The Israeli military, in coordination with its U.S. and European allies, evacuated hundreds of Syrian rescue workers known as the White Helmets from near its volatile frontier with Syria in a complex and first-of-a-kind operation. These are people who have saved lives and whose lives were in danger.

Syrian regime forces and its allies have made advances in the southwest hat bring it closer to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights border. Israel has occupied the Golan Heights since 1967.

German weekly magazine Bild, which broke news of the evacuation and published footage of buses used to transport the Syrians across Golan, said 50 of them would be granted asylum by Berlin. They said due to the risk the volunteers faced and their high profile, necessary steps were taken to afford protection to "as many volunteers and their families" as possible.

The Government said the United Kingdom would provide protection to "as numerous volunteers and their families as possible".

The move was "an expression of my stance of ensuring humanity and order in migration policy", he said.

Officially known as the Syrian Civil Defence but known by their distinctive white helmets, members of the volunteer search-and-rescue force are hailed heroes by many, although supporters of Syrian President Bashar al Assad have sought to portray them as terrorists.

I have, in the past, spoken to Syrian officials who claimed the White Helmets had links to MI6, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Gulf States - they were, it was claimed, a conduit for weapons and "terrorist" resistance against President Assad. "Canada is resettling up to 50 members and their families, and is working with the worldwide community to assess remaining needs", said Canada's foreign affairs spokeswoman Elizabeth Reid.

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Another source familiar with the situation said Islamic State had actually been able to expand its territory over the last 20 hours by seizing at least 18 villages abandoned by other rebels under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Israel has not given an exact number of evacuees.

The US, UK, Germany and Canada had all been aiding the White Helmets logistically in recent months.

The White Helmets typically have operated in opposition-held areas across Syria, places where government services are nearly non-existent, voluntarily risking their lives to save hundreds of civilian lives during relentless government airstrikes and bombardments.

Since its formation, when Syria's conflict was nearing its third year, more than 250 of its volunteers have been killed. They are credited for saving thousands of lives.

Some members have received training overseas, including in Turkey, returning to instruct colleagues on search-and-rescue techniques.

The United States has contributed some $30 million in assistance to the group, which has also received funds from the U.K. and other countries.

Over the weekend, a convoy of buses carrying the White Helmets streamed into northern Israel under cover of darkness.

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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