Syria blasts evacuation of White Helmets as ’criminal’

Saul Bowman
July 24, 2018

Officially known as the Syrian Civil Defense, the White Helmets are a volunteer organization founded in 2013 that seeks to provide humanitarian aid in war-torn Syria.

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The United Kingdom, Germany, and Canada promised to resettle the fleeing humanitarians and their families, while Israel facilitated the evacuation by permitting them to pass through areas it controls and Jordan agreed to host them pending their resettlement.

The White Helmets "used to see death while doing our work saving lives from underneath airstrikes and barrel bombs".

Since the Syrian government offensive began in June, the area along the frontier with the Golan Heights has been the safest in the southwestern region, attracting hundreds of displaced people because it is along the disengagement line with Israel demarcated in 1974 after a war.

The comments were reported by Syria's state-run SANA news service.

The group is still in Syria and it is not certain that a new effort to bring them out can be mounted due to the "precarious" situation there, according to the source. It has emerged that a total of 800 people were expected to be pulled out initially.

Jordan had originally said 800 Syrians were evacuated and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi tweeted on Sunday that the original agreement was for 800 but that they later settled at 422.

The White Helmets have rescued thousands of civilians trapped under the rubble or caught up in fighting in opposition-held zones along various fronts of Syria's seven-year conflict.

Syria's Foreign Ministry has called the evacuation of members of the White Helmets to Jordan a "criminal process" that revealed the role of Israel, the United States and other western allies in propping up what the government considers a "terrorist group".

"We will not allow the Iranians to establish themselves even 100 kilometers from the border", Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, according to an Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Since its establishment, the group has received at least $55 million from the British Foreign Office, $23 million or more from the US Office of Transition Initiatives and untold millions from Qatar.

Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland said in a statement that "Canada, working in close partnership with the United Kingdom and Germany, has been leading an global effort to ensure the safety of White Helmets and their families".

The source connected to the rescue operation of the White Helmets into Jordan via Israel told NPR the Syrian government did not offer this amnesty to the rescue workers.

"They are now being assisted by the UNHCR in Jordan pending worldwide resettlement".

All other parties to the deal - Russia, Britain, France, Germany and China - have sought to keep the deal in effect, saying it is working as intended by preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons for now.

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