Published: Sun, July 22, 2018
People | By Leon Thompson

Israel confirms it evacuated 800 White Helmet rescue workers from Syria

Israel confirms it evacuated 800 White Helmet rescue workers from Syria

Jordan's Foreign Ministry confirmed that it had allowed 800 Syrian citizens to enter the country and said they would travel on to Britain, Germany and Canada within three months.

The Associated Press first reported on Friday that USA officials were finalizing plans to evacuate several hundred Syrian civil defense workers and their families from southwest Syria as Russian-backed government forces closed in on the Quneitra province, along the Golan Heights frontier.

Founded in 2013, the Syria Civil Defence, or White Helmets, is a network of first responders that rescues wounded in the aftermath of airstrikes, shelling or explosions in rebel-held territory.

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

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".

The White Helmets have rescued thousands of civilians caught up in fighting in opposition-held zones along various fronts of Syria's seven-year conflict.

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Canadian foreign minister Chrystia Freeland said in a statement that "Canada, working in close partnership with the United Kingdom and Germany, has been leading an global effort to ensure the safety of White Helmets and their families". "The civilians were subsequently transferred to a neighbouring country", it said without elaborating. Evacuation plans were accelerated after last week's North Atlantic Treaty Organisation summit in Brussels.

Since the Syrian government offensive began in June, the area along the frontier with the Golan Heights has been the safest in the southwestern region, attracting hundreds of displaced people because it is along the disengagement line with Israel demarcated in 1974 after a war.

Syria splintered into civil war in 2011 when Assad's regime violently repressed demonstrations against his rule during the pro-democracy Arab spring.

Israel, which technically remains in a state of war with Syria, has been watching the development near its border closely. The military said that did not mean Israel's policy of non-intervention in the conflict had changed. The advances are part of an operation the army launched last month towards Quneitra province. In the past two years, the Israeli military says it has delivered more than 1,500 tons of food, 250 tons of clothing and almost a million liters of fuel.

As Assad's forces consolidate a string of military victories and slowly gain the upper hand over opposition fighters, Israel has signaled that it would ultimately accept Assad's re-stabilized rule over the country.

The Israeli military said the evacuation came at the request of the USA and a number of European countries.

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