Published: Thu, July 26, 2018
Global Media | By Garry Long

Israel evacuates White Helmets volunteers from Syria

Israel evacuates White Helmets volunteers from Syria

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said Sunday that 422 White Helmets volunteers were evacuated, instead of the initial 800 cleared for the operation.

The military said it was an "exceptional humanitarian gesture" that was done at the request of the United States and its European allies due to "an immediate threat to (Syrians') lives". It posted a video online showing its soldiers handing out water bottles to the evacuees.

President Trump said at a news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday in Helsinki that both had agreed to work together to help ensure Israel's security.

"These people, who have risked their lives to aid and rescue the civilian population, and to reduce their suffering, are now themselves in need of help".

It said they were transferred to a neighboring country, which it did not identify. We have seen a lot of air strikes, tank shelling from this part in front of us, and also from the other side.

Israel had originally calculated numbers evacuated at 800, but that figure was revised downwards by former MI5 officer James Le Mesurier, recognized as the founder of the White Helmets which he formed in Turkey in 2013.

Efforts to evacuate almost 300 White Helmet members, left stranded in southern Syria after they were unable to reach an evacuation point in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Sunday, have failed thus far, the volunteer rescue group told CNN Monday.

"They were trapped in a unsafe area and arrived in Jordan now", the volunteer group said.

The civil war in Syria has dragged on for more than seven years, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths and an unrelenting humanitarian crisis.

It was an unprecedented operation to provide protection and asylum to allies of Western nations in Syria's complex battlefield. Their volunteers have gone into war-stricken areas, searching for survivors, winning them support from many countries, including the United States.

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They offered services where state institutions and services are non-existent.

Israel has stepped up attacks against what it describes as Iranian and Iran-backed targets in Syria this year. Both Moscow and Damascus have accused the White Helmets of staging rescue missions and chemical attacks to blame on the government. "The situation is getting worse by the minute, especially after the batch of White Helmets who have managed to leave yesterday morning, the regime is looking for us".

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

The overnight evacuation was an unprecedented operation coordinated among those countries to extract over 400 members of the search and rescue group from along the volatile frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, where they were besieged by Syrian troops.

Over the weekend, a convoy of buses carrying the White Helmets streamed into northern Israel under cover of darkness.

Last week, a deal was reached between the opposition in Quneitra and Russian negotiators acting on behalf of the Syrian government.

President Bashar al-Assad has called the White Helmets part of Al Qaeda in Syria.

The officials said planning for the evacuation has been taking place for some time, but accelerated after last week's North Atlantic Treaty Organisation summit in Brussels.

The group are now in Jordan where they have been given temporary asylum. A Syrian offensive that began last month has battered the few remaining rebel holdouts, and Assad continues to solidify gains and his power. "We tried by all means, but the roads were not safe", White Helmets member Abu Laith told CNN. All other opposition fighters along the southwestern border left following deals struck with the Syrian government and Russian forces.

Close to one million Syrians are registered with the U.N.'s refugee agency in Lebanon.

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