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

23 July 2018

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Justin Trudeau was among those who personnally asked that Israel evacuate hundreds of so-called White Helmets from Syria amid fears they would be attacked by government troops.

The Israeli army said it evacuated the White Helmets at the request of the United States and European countries, in what it called "an exceptional humanitarian gesture".

"Israel continues to maintain a non-intervention policy regarding the Syrian conflict and continues to hold the Syrian regime accountable for all activities in Syrian territory".

Euronews has contacted the White Helmets for comment on the reports.

The group, known officially as Syria Civil Defence, has been widely hailed in the West and credited with saving thousands of people in rebel-held areas during years of bombing attacks by Damascus and its allies.

Syrian forces, backed by a Russian air campaign, have been pushing into the edges of Quneitra province following a relentless aerial bombardment campaign last month that routed rebels in adjoining Deraa province.

The Syrian Arab Army (SAA) have continued to advance and take control of the Quneitra district, leading to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights border, raising concern for Israel, on Sunday. The State News Agency SANA said "the secret" of the group had been revealed and their "role as an agent ended".

The United States has contributed some $30 million in assistance to the group, which has also received funds from the U.K. and other countries.

The White Helmets fight fires and carry out repairs in war zones.

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

Some 422 volunteers and family members were taken to Jordan via the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights overnight.

The British International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the Syrian volunteers and their family "have been able to leave Syria for safety" following a joint diplomatic effort by Britain and its international partners.

"We want to leave to any safe place and we want to be evacuated quickly", Muhannad said of the dozens of rescue workers who remain trapped in southwestern Syria.

They had fled as a Syrian government offensive in the south-west of the country intensified earlier this summer.

"We judged that, in these particular circumstances, the volunteers required immediate protection", they said.

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

The Syrian government and Russian Federation have labelled the White Helmets as foreign "agents" and have accused them of staging scenes of alleged chemical weapons attacks.

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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.

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