Damascus: White Helmet evacuation as "criminal operation"

Charlene Craig
July 24, 2018

Separately on Sunday, Israel evacuated hundreds of White Helmets rescuers and their family members threatened by advancing Syrian regime forces to Jordan for resettlement in Western countries.

"The criminal operation carried out by Israel and its agents in the region unmasks the true nature of the so-called 'White Helmets, '" Syria's foreign ministry said on Monday, state-run SANA news reported.

The State Department said the USA "welcomes the safe evacuation of more than 400 members of the Syrian Civil Defense, otherwise known as the White Helmets, and their families from southwest Syria".

The IDF said the unprecedented move came at the request of the United States, the United Kingdom and other members of the global community, as Syrian-regime forces tighten their grip on the region, trapping the volunteers and their families and posing "immediate risk" to their lives.

The volunteer group - officially known as Syria Civil Defense - was formed in 2013.

The Syrian regime, along with its allies, Russian Federation and Iran, has directly targeted selfless relief workers, including the estimated 3,000 White Helmet volunteers, using people's need for health care as a weapon against them. But the Syrian government has accused the White Helmets of working to help rebel fighters.

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Canada has offered to host up to 50 White Helmets and their families, a senior official confirmed to The Canadian Press on condition of anonymity.

"Words of condemnation are not enough to express the discontent felt by all Syrians in regards to these despicable conspiracies and the unlimited support that Western countries, Israel, Jordan presented to the White Helmets organization and gangs of ISIS and Al-Nusra and other terrorist organizations that have worked for eight years in order to divert Syria from its path and destroy the achievements it has realized", the official added.

Its members, known for their white helmets, say they are neutral. The U.K., Germany and Canada have agreed to process the refugees' asylum claims.

Also Monday, Israel said it fired a pair of missiles to intercept two missiles fired from Syria in Israel's direction.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opens the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office on July 23, 2018.

Netanyahu met Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and its armed forces chief, Gen. Valery Gerasimov - a visit the Israeli leader said was arranged last week at the request of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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The operation took place near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

"The Russians are speaking about (the 100-km buffer zone) and are committed to it, but we said there are also long-range weapons beyond this zone, and all those forces must leave Syria", the official said.

"These are people who saved lives and whose lives are now in danger", Netanyahu said.

It said they were transferred to a neighboring country, which it did not identify.

Britain's foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, praised the evacuation and thanked Israel and Jordan in a tweet.

"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.

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"The White Helmets are courageous volunteers and first responders who risk their lives to help their fellow Syrians who have been targeted by senseless violence", Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a statement on Saturday.

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