Hundreds of 'White Helmet' rescue workers are evacuated from Syria

Arturo Kim
July 23, 2018

It was feared that they would be persecuted by advancing government forces in southern Syria.

A general view of the transport convoy, during the Syria Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, extraction from the Golan Heights.

"The civilians were subsequently transferred to a neighboring country", it said without elaborating.

Jordan's state news agency said the evacuees will remain in the country for approximately three months and then be resettled to Canada, Britain and Germany.

The White Helmets, founded in 2013 amid Syria's bloody civil war, have rescued thousands of civilians trapped under the rubble or caught up in fighting in opposition-held zones along the fronts of Syria's seven-year conflict.

The offensive, which began in June, has seen a number of agreements that have led to the evacuation of rebel forces from the Deraa and Quneitra areas to regions further north.

The Syrian government and Russian Federation view the White Helmets as "agents" of foreign powers and have regularly accused them of staging rescue missions or chemical attacks.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed plans to evacuate the White Helmets from Syria prior to a rescue mission carried out overnight by the Israeli military.

Israel described the move as an "exceptional humanitarian gesture", adding that it "continues to maintain a non-intervention policy regarding the Syrian conflict".

Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel's minister of regional cooperation, said in a radio interview Sunday that foreign powers anxious that Assad's government would target the White Helmets if they were in territory his forces seized.

Although they operate only in rebel-held areas, they say they are non-partisan. Out of concern that the missiles were launched towards Israel, alarm sirens were sounded in many areas in the Upper Galilee and the Golan Heights, including Tzfat and Katzrin. They also became witnesses to the numerous war crimes committed by Syrian President Bashar Assad and the Russian military as both deliberately targeted civilian structures in bombing raids.

In the morning, a first wave of around 50 buses carrying opposition fighters and their families reached the Morek crossing on the edge of northwestern rebel-held Idlib province, a correspondent at the scene said. For the first time since the war began in 2011, government forces regained positions along the disengagement line following a cease-fire deal with Israel in 1974.

"Refugees have set up tents just metres away from the Israeli-controlled Golan frontier, and early last week dozens risked walking over minefields to approach the border fence, some carrying white flags in an apparent attempt to cross to safety", the Guardian in England reported Saturday.

Syrian state television said on Sunday an Israeli air strike had hit a military post in the city of Misyaf in Syria's Hama province but caused only material damage.

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