White Helmet 'heroes' flee from attacks through Israel

Elias Hubbard
July 23, 2018

An explosion is pictured at Quneitra at the Syrian side of the Israeli Syrian border, as seen from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Israel July 22, 2018.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel's part in the rescue of the Syrian White Helmets came after US President Donald Trump requested his help. The military said that did not mean Israel's policy of non-intervention in the conflict had changed.

Russia's embassy in the Netherlands welcomed the White Helmets' departure.

But the Syrian government and its Russian backers have denounced the group as little more than a tool for Western propaganda, and accused its members of being in league with Islamist insurgents.

They offered services where state institutions and services are non-existent.

The United States once armed the southern FSA rebels, but told them at the start of the Russian-Syrian offensive not to expect its intervention. Syrian state TV al-Ikhbariya called the evacuation a "scandal".

The group are now in Jordan where they have been given temporary asylum.

Syrian lawmaker Khaled Abboud said that "foreign powers are pulling their agents out of the battlefield" because of the Syrian military victories that have quashed the "aggression" against Syria.

Southwest Syria, a prized region for almost all stakeholders in Syria's war due to its strategic position bordering both Jordan and the Israel with close proximity to Damascus, has been under heavy bombardment by Assad's forces which launched an offensive last month to take over the last remaining strongholds of rebels in that part of the country. They operate mostly in rebel-held territory where almost all civil services have collapsed.

With its new advances, government forces are, for the first time since the civil war began in 2011, retaking this territory from the rebels and restoring their positions along the disengagement line on the frontier with Israel that's part of a cease-fire agreement reached in 1974 between the two countries formally still at war.

Who are the White Helmets?

Syrian regime forces have denied exit to members of the White Helmets civil defense agency and their families to opposition-held Idlib province amid an evacuation deal from Quneitra province, according to the group's chief.

Planning for the evacuation had been taking place for some time but speeded up following a recent North Atlantic Treaty Organisation summit in Brussels.

"While in Jordan, UNHCR in close collaboration with the involved governments, is supporting their temporary stay in anticipation of their onward relocation to third countries", the statement said.

An global operation to rescue more than a hundred Syrian rescue workers and their families took place early Sunday, carrying hundreds of civilians through Israel and Jordan under cover of darkness as President Bashar al-Assad's forces prepared to take control of the area.

Jordan has agreed to temporarily house the 422 evacuees, but its Foreign Ministry said Britain, Germany and Canada would resettle them.

The White Helmets are sponsored by humanitarian groups mainly in the United States and Canada and works in Syria to provide food, psychological support and other assistance.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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