Damascus slams 'criminal' evacuation of White Helmets

Hugh Fox
July 24, 2018

A day after hundreds of volunteers with the Syrian Civil Defense were evacuated to Jordan on July 21, the European Union and others applauded the operation, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying the United States and Canada drove the effort.

A number of those evacuated were from the White Helmets volunteer rescue group, known as the Syrian Civil Defense.

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

Hundreds of aid workers of the "White Helmet" civil defence group and their families were evacuated from Syria early Sunday in an global operation that transported them through Israel and into Jordan as the forces of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad closed in.

The group's motto - "To save one life is to save all of humanity" - is drawn from a verse in the Quran, although the White Helmets insist they treat all victims, regardless of religion.

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A military source said in a statement to Syria's state agency SANA that a military site in Masyaf in Hama countryside was targeted by an Israeli aerial aggression, causing only material damage.

Canada will resettle up to 50 White Helmets and their families, a Canadian official with direct knowledge of the resettlement efforts told CNN.

Jordan confirmed the Syrian citizens entered its territory to be resettled in Western countries in weeks.

"White Helmets were specifically sought out during those evacuations", the source familiar with Sunday night's operation said, pointing to cases of rescue workers being "detained, tortured and forced to make [false] confessions.and subsequently disappeared".

A second, non-Jordanian source familiar with the agreement said the original plan had been to evacuate 800 people, but only 422 made it out as operations were hampered by government checkpoints and the expansion of IS in the area. After this evacuation, there remain more than 3000 members in the country, many of whom are civilian volunteers, who travel to the scenes of air strikes and other bombardments to rescue those trapped in the rubble.

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Members of the White Helmets as Syrian civilians and rebel fighters arrived in the village of Qalaat al-Madiq, north of Hama on 24 March 2018 after being evacuated from Harasta in Eastern Ghouta.

"I appreciated the words that were spoken by President Putin together with President Trump regarding the security of Israel during the recent summit", Netanyahu said after the meeting, in remarks relayed by his office.

Damascus believes that the White Helmets are linked to the Jabhat al-Nusra terror organization (outlawed in Russia) and act in its interests.The United States has been funding the White Helmets since 2013, providing more than $33 mln to them.

The Israeli military said it will continue to aid those in need but won't allow a massive influx of refugees into the country.

Its activation came after Israel on two separate occasions this month fired Patriot missiles at incoming drones from Syria.

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More than 650,000 Syrian refugees are registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Jordan but the kingdom says it hosts 1.3 million Syrian refugees.

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