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

Monday, 23 Jul, 2018

The Israeli military said the evacuation was an "exceptional humanitarian gesture" carried out at the request of the United States and a number of European countries due to "an immediate threat to (the Syrians') lives".

Jordan had confirmed that it had authorised the evacuation of the rescue workers from southern Syria and said that they would be resettled in Britain, Canada and Germany. There's a real sense of tragedy that this had to happen at all.

Officially called the Syrian Civil Defense but known by their distinctive white helmets, the group has operated a rescue service in rebel-held parts of Syria.

The Israeli military said the evacuation came at the request of the United States and a number of European countries.

Many White Helmets volunteers have also been killed while doing their work - trying to rescue civilians trapped in bombarded buildings or providing first aid to injured civilians. "The number requested was 800 but the actual number settled at 422", he added.

"Given the speed of the movements on the ground it really was a Hail Mary operation", he said.

"At the same time we are also taking action in the south".

Russian and Syrian jets stepped up their bombing of an Islamic State bastion along the Jordan-Israel border in southwestern Syria, as the militants pushed into areas abandoned by other rebel groups, diplomatic and opposition sources said.

The White Helmets were taken across the border and then ferried on buses across the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and on into Jordan.

On Sunday, state media kept up its campaign against the group, pointing out that the involvement of Israel - which facilitated the evacuation and with whom Syria is formally at war - was evidence that the group was collaborating with an enemy power.

Germany has provided the group with 12 million euros ($14 million) in funding since 2016.

The United Kingdom and Canada were quick to celebrate the evacuation, with UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt calling it "fantastic news" in a tweet Sunday.

"White Helmets have been the target of attacks and, due to their high profile, we judged that, in these particular circumstances, the volunteers required immediate protection", it said.

Canada, Germany and Britain have agreed to take in the volunteers.

Although they operate only in rebel-held areas, they say they are non-partisan.

Some Syrians have opted to be evacuated to northern Idlib province, where the opposition still holds territory.

Damascus and its allies have accused rebels and their supporters of staging chemical attacks in an attempt to frame the government.

He wrote on Twitter that the White Helmets will release an official statement on the matter on Monday.

Up to 800 rescue volunteers along with their families were evacuated from southern Syria.

On June 19, Syrian government forces launched a Russia-backed offensive to retake Daraa and Quneitra provinces.