Jordan takes in Syrian 'White Helmets' evacuated with Israeli help

Elias Hubbard
July 23, 2018

Britain is among the countries that will take in some of the 800 people removed overnight from Syria by Israeli forces.

The Foreign Office is expected to help resettle the White Helmets and their families.

The Syrian civil war has raged since 2011, leaving 350,000 people dead and millions more displaced.

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.

How did the operation come about?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a separate video statement, said US President Donald Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and others had asked him to help evacuate the group's members.

Syria's army and its allies have been pushing to expand their foothold near the Golan frontier by negotiating surrender deals with rebel groups and allowing them to move to opposition-held areas in northern Syria.

How was it carried out? The UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) administers a buffer zone between the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Syria.

A spokeswoman for the German interior ministry said Berlin would take in eight White Helmets plus their families.

Israeli media identified the Syrians as belonging to the White Helmets organisation. Many have amassed near sealed borders with Israel and Jordan, and are surviving high desert temperatures with little more than a tent or informal shelter for protection.

The United States and Russian Federation hailed the evacuation by the Israeli military of a Syrian volunteer civil organization from a volatile border area near the Golan Heights, although the two powers saw the operation in a sharply differing manner. While Israel has maintained a policy of nonintervention regarding the war, it has provided humanitarian assistance to civilians congregating near the Syria-Israel border since June 2016 as part of its "Operation Good Neighbor". "I therefore authorized for them to be transferred through Israel to other countries as an important humanitarian measure", the Israeli PM said.

From Jordan, they will be transported to UK, Canada and Germany in the next few next months.

Safadi later tweeted that Jordan approved the evacuations after a pledge from Britain, Germany and Canada that the Syrian evacuees would be resettled in three months.

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

"We pay tribute to the courageous and selfless work that White Helmets volunteers have done to save Syrians on all sides of the conflict".

Who are the White Helmets?

"The civilians were evacuated from the war zone in Southern Syria due to an immediate threat to their lives", the army said, adding that they were "subsequently transferred to a neighboring country".

Numbering about 3,000 volunteers, they also carry out essential fix works. Some 200 members have been killed.

The White Helmets are western-funded and gained worldwide acclaim in 2016 when a United Kingdom documentary on the group won an Oscar.

Russian jets have been conducting air raids against Daesh and other terrorist groups inside Syria upon a request by the Damascus government since September 2015.

President Assad said it used "humanitarian masks and umbrellas just to implement a certain agenda".

The group has been financed by public donations, as well as funding from foreign governments.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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