Hundreds of Syrian White Helmets evacuated to Jordan by Israeli military , US, West

File photo- Members of the Syrian civil defence volunteers, also known as the White Helmets, remove a victim from the rubble of his house after an air strike by government forces  in April 2017.(AFP File Photo)
File photo- Members of the Syrian civil defence volunteers, also known as the White Helmets, remove a victim from the rubble of his house after an air strike by government forces in April 2017.(AFP File Photo)

Beirut, Lebanon- The Israeli military in coordination with its U.S. and European allies evacuated hundreds of Syrian rescue workers known as the White Helmets from near its volatile frontier with Syria, in a complex and first-of-a-kind operation.

The evacuees, who were hemmed in from one side by advancing hostile Syrian troops and from another by militants affiliated with the Islamic State group, were transported to Jordan, from where they are expected to be resettled in Europe and Canada in the coming weeks.

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said 422 White Helmets volunteers were evacuated, instead of the initial 800 cleared for the operation. Israel’s military said the overnight operation was “an exceptional humanitarian gesture” at the request of the United States and European allies due to an “immediate threat to the (Syrians) lives.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a video statement saying U.S. President Donald Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and others had asked him to help evacuate the group’s members.

“These are people who saved lives and whose lives are now in danger. I authorized bringing them through Israel to other countries as an important humanitarian gesture,” Netanyahu said.

Britain said the operation was possible due to the joint diplomatic efforts, hailing the efforts of the White Helmets volunteers to save lives in opposition areas.

Jeremy Hunt, U.K’s foreign secretary, called the successful evacuation “fantastic news,” and thanked Israel and Jordan in a tweet for acting quickly following the request. The White Helmets, he said, “are the bravest of the brave and in a desperate situation this is at least one ray of hope.”

The members of the White Helmets and their families had been stranded along the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights following the Syrian government offensive in southwestern Syria which began in June.

Raed Saleh, head of the White Helmets which are also known as the Syrian Civil Defense, said a number of volunteers and their families were evacuated from a dangerous, besieged area. He did not provide exact figures.

This was the first such Israeli intervention in Syria’s lengthy civil war, now in its eighth year. Although it has sent aid into Syria and has provided medical treatment to thousands of Syrians who reached the Golan Heights frontier, the Israeli military said its actions did not reflect a change to Israel’s non-intervention policy in Syria’s war, where all the warring parties are considered hostile.

It was an unprecedented operation to provide protection and asylum to allies of Western nations in Syria’s complex battlefield.

The White Helmets have enjoyed backing and received finances and training from the United States and other Western nations for years.

Because of their work in opposition areas, where they were almost exclusively the only ones to offer rescue services in the face of the government military advances, they were considered public enemy number one by the Syrian government.

They offered services where state institutions and services are non-existent. Their facilities were targeted, and their volunteers hit in what became known as “double tap” attacks that drew the volunteers to areas of bombings only to hit them once on site.

The Syrian government, and its ally Russia, have called the White Helmets “terrorists,” accused them of being foreign powers “agents,” and of cooperating with radical insurgent groups. Both Moscow and Damascus have accused the White Helmets of staging rescue missions and chemical attacks to blame on the government.

On Sunday, state media kept up its campaign against the group, pointing out that Israel, with which Syria is formally at war, which facilitated the evacuation, citing it as evidence that the group was collaborating with an enemy power. Syrian state TV al-Ikhbariya called the evacuation a “scandal.” The State News Agency SANA said “the secret” of the group had been revealed and their “role as an agent ended.”

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.

In a quick offensive, Syrian government forces, backed by Russian air forces, have been advancing from the east on areas held by the opposition in the strategic southwestern region that straddles the Jordanian border and the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel in 1967. They first seized the border with Jordan, squeezing the opposition in the center and progressively chipping away at areas the rebels held for years. 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.

This left the rebels and the White Helmets besieged by the government from one side, the sealed frontier with Israel, and by the group affiliated with the Islamic State group from the south.

Surrender deals were reached with the armed groups, allowing thousands to evacuate to the northern province of Idlib, where the opposition still holds sway.

But one civil defense official, refusing to be identified by name for his safety, said the Russians— allies of the Syrian government and who were mediating the surrender deals — refused to allow the White Helmets to be evacuated to the north.

The Associated Press first reported on Friday that U.S. officials were finalizing plans to evacuate several hundred Syrian civil defense workers and their families from southwest Syria as Russian-backed government forces closed in on the area along the Golan Heights frontier.

Evacuation plans were accelerated after last week’s NATO summit in Brussels.

On Sunday, the British International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt and Foreign Secretary Hunt said the volunteers and their family “have been able to leave Syria for safety” following a joint diplomatic effort by Britain and its international partners. They said due to the risk the volunteers faced and their high profile, necessary steps were taken to afford protection to “as many volunteers and their families” as possible.

The evacuees are being assisted by the U.N. Refugee agency in Jordan pending international resettlement, the secretaries said.

Jordanian Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Mohammed al-Kayed said the Syrians would remain in a closed area in Jordan for three months. Safadi, Jordan’s foreign minister, said in a tweet that his government approved the evacuation after a pledge from Britain, Germany and Canada that the evacuees will be resettled in three months.

It is not clear if the White Helmets who have been previously evacuated to Idlib from other parts of Syria will receive similar treatment.

Since the offensive began, Jordan said it will not open its borders to the newly displaced Syrians. Jordan hosts at least 650,000 registered Syrian refugees, according to the U.N., but Amman says a similar number of undocumented Syrians are also in the kingdom.

Some 300,000 have been displaced by the fighting, with only a few thousands opting for evacuation to Idlib, which is expected to be the target of the next government offensive.

Aron Lund, a Syria expert with the Century Foundation, said after funding and promoting the White Helmets for years, the evacuation should not be a surprise.

“It seems like simple moral math to me that when the uprising fails, they should try to get their guys out alive, with their families,” he told The Associated Press in an email. “Had the international community done this much earlier and also offered safe haven to the rebel leaders they’ve been backing, they could have helped get irreconcilables out of the equation and reduce the amount of killing and destruction.”

“All sides benefit from giving the losing team a safe exit,” he said.

AP

  • Blue Genius

    This would incline towards Assad maintaining power.

    • Rascal

      Looks like he gets to keep the pile of rubble and a large portion of the former Syria for now, under Russia. But he will not see peace until the Hezb/Iran go home. Iran is still looking to aggravate Israel and continue stirring up war. And Israel will continue to preemptively strike IRGC and Hezb in Syria every chance they get. At least until the Iranian people revolt against the mullah mismanagement.

      • Blue Genius

        I don’t buy the “we’re striking Iran for it’s own sake” excuse entirely. Note that both Russia and Iran/Hezbollah are moving quickly now, and Jordan is interested in this as well, to get the refugees out of Lebanon and Jordan and back into Syria. Having largely defeated the opposition, Russia/Syria/Iran want the conflict wound down. The Western strategy is to counter by prolonging the conflict, and keeping the refugees out of Syria, especially those in Lebanon, hoping to make them into a political force. This is Israel’s compelling interest in striking now, not anything to do with “Iran on the border.” They’ve lived with Iran close-by for awhile now, just on a different border.

        Everyone seems to be betting on the coming Iranian revolt against the clergy. Seeing is believing.

    • Hind Abyad

      This is Israeli WEST NEWS.
      “Over the past two years, enlightening information has been revealed that thoroughly and unequivocally debunks the “humanitarianism” of the White Helmets in Syria, sometimes referred to as the Syrian Civil Defense.

      Since they were founded in 2013, much of Western media has sought to elevate the White Helmets as the “bravest” and most heroic of Syrians. They have been the subject of a Netflix documentary, which won an Oscar, and has consistently been plastered across TV screens in surprisingly well-produced videos showing them removing children from rubble in war-torn areas claimed by Syria’s “rebels.”

      However, missing from this unambiguously positive coverage has been the group’s ties to terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, their doctoring of footage, their role in executing civilians and their use of children – both dead and alive – as props for producing pro-intervention propaganda. Also absent is how the White Helmets have received over $123 million from 2013 to 2016 from the U.S. and UK governments, as well as Western NGOs and Gulf states” monarchies.(..)”
      https://www.mintpressnews.com/james-le-mesurier-british-ex-military-mercenary-founded-white-helmets/230320/
      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3f535c83953c44c12f84e068b18fc96813e032466296a5bc05dc6998ea918173.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/dd4b3707c6160a2ab34889f824c07671f1128454c719eec952b99fb78517ab82.jpg

      • Y K

        What is “WEST NEWS” (with Capslock on)?

        Dr. Dumbyad is a mystery wrapped in a riddle.

        • Hind Abyad

          No importance squatter

          • Y K

            This may be of no importance to you, beautiful. But Dumbyadologists all over the world are scratching their heads. 🙂