'Rescuing The Rescuers': Stranded Syrian White Helmets Evacuated By Israel


Some of the volunteers and their families, about 800 in all, were moved into Jordan under the threat of advancing Syrian regime forces over Saturday night.

Muhannad, a member of the White Helmets in southwestern Syria who was unable to reach Quneitra as part of the evacuation, told The National that around 260 civil defence workers left in the evacuation, alongside relatives that brought the number to around 500 in total.

Islamic State-affiliated forces entrenched in the Yarmouk Basin, which borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Jordan, also repelled a ground attack by the Syrian army and its allies, the sources added.

The White Helmets, officially called the Syrian Civil Defence, operates a rescue service in rebel-held parts of Syria.

Praising the White Helmets as "courageous volunteers" who risk their lives to help fellow Syrians targeted by senseless violence, Freeland said "Canada will continue to provide significant humanitarian assistance to the people affected by this conflict in Syria".

Russia's Interfax news agency, citing the Russian military, confirmed the same number have been taken by bus to the Idlib zone.

The White Helmet members and their families will be held in a "restricted area" of Jordan.

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

He tweeted: 'Fantastic news that we - United Kingdom and friends - have secured evacuation of White Helmets and their families - thank you Israel and Jordan for acting so quickly on our request.

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The United Nations says more than 300,000 Syrians have likely been displaced since the government offensive began in southern Syria in June.

According to the Times of Israel newspaper, planning for the evacuation had been in the works for some time but was speeded up after a recent North Atlantic Treaty Organisation summit in Brussels.

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 Jordanian top diplomat hailed Russia's efforts to have Syrian refugees return home and stressed that Amman was ready for cooperation on this matter.

President Assad said it used "humanitarian masks and umbrellas just to implement a certain agenda".

The rescue marked the first time in the eight-year war that Israel has allowed Syrians to flee through its territory.

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

The evacuated White Helmets had been working in an area controlled by the Syrian opposition in the south-west of the country and had been trapped by a government offensive.