White Helmet rescue workers still trapped in Syria

Arturo Kim
July 24, 2018

The Israeli military said on Sunday it had rescued members of a Syrian volunteer civil organization from the volatile border area on the Golan Heights and evacuated them to a third country.

Hundreds were evacuated from the southwest of the war-torn country as part of what Israel described as a "humanitarian effort".

Raed Saleh, head of the Syrian Civil Defence as the White Helmets are also known, said a number of volunteers and their families were evacuated from a risky, besieged area and had reached Jordan.

The White Helmets said 98 male and female volunteers and 324 family members were now in Jordan, having travelled through the occupied Golan Heights.

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

More than 400 rescue workers and family members from Syria's southern provinces of Daraa and Quneitra were ferried into Israel on Sunday, then taken into Jordan for resettlement into Western countries.

The White Helmets are a group of volunteer first responders working in areas under rebel control in Syria - providing necessary services like ambulance, medical, firefighting, and rubble clearing.

"The lives of these people, who have saved lives, were now in danger".

Earlier this month, CBS News broadcasting service said in a report that the issue of the White helmets' withdrawal from Syria had been raised with US President Donald Trump in multiple conversations with allied countries on the sidelines of the July 11-12 North Atlantic Treaty Organisation summit in Brussels.

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The rescuers and their families are expected to be resettled in Europe and Canada. The White Helmets have financial backing from the U.S., Britain, and other nations.

Cesar said he had learned of the operation a few days ago "by chance", but when he contacted White Helmets leadership, they told him it was too late to register to leave.

Last week, Russia's Defense Ministry said it proposed to the United States the creation of a joint group, along with Jordan, to organize refugee returns.

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

IDF soldiers oversee the transfer of 422 "White Helmet" rescue workers and their families through Israel and into Jordan, as they flee the Assad regime, on July 22, 2018.

Monday's incident came after Israel earlier this month, twice in the same week, fired a Patriot missile at an unmanned aircraft that approached the country's border from Syria.

Israel has remained largely neutral in the war in Syria, which is largely fought along sectarian lines. But Israel has said it will not allow the refugees to enter Israel.

Last week, Syrian state media said Israeli rockets had struck a Syrian military position near Nairab airport on the outskirts of the city of Aleppo.

The source said numerous rescuers and their families had made unsafe journeys across a war zone to reach the evacuation point.

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