Published: Tue, July 24, 2018
Worldwide | By Stella Potter

Syria brands evacuation of White Helmets 'criminal'

Syria brands evacuation of White Helmets 'criminal'

Britain is among the countries that will take in some of the 800 people removed overnight from Syria by Israeli forces.

The Syrian government has condemned a multilateral operation to evacuate hundreds of rescue workers from the war-torn country as a "criminal process" meant to destabilise Syria.

The White Helmets volunteers had been stranded along the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Jordan has agreed to temporarily house the 422 evacuees, but its Foreign Ministry said Britain, Germany and Canada would resettle them.

The Syrian government of President Bashar Assad on Monday blasted Israel, the United States and other nations for evacuating hundreds of Syrian Civil Defense "White Helmets" rescue workers and their families from Assad's advancing forces.

The Syrian government has accused the White Helmets, also known as Syria Civil Defence, of being a Western-sponsored terrorist organisation.

"The White Helmets have saved over 115,000 lives during the Syrian conflict, at great risk to their own", Jeremy Hunt, the British foreign secretary, and Penny Mordaunt, the U.K.'s worldwide development secretary said in a joint statement.

"Several days ago, U.S. President Trump contacted me, as did Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau and others, and requested that we assist in evacuating hundreds of White Helmets from Syria", Netanyahu said in Hebrew during an online address.

They are expected to be resettled in the UK, Germany, and Canada. The US, while welcoming the evacuation of White Helmets in a statement penned by the State Department, didn't seem to be in a rush to welcome its members on its soil. The ministry's spokesman Mohammed al-Kayed said the Syrians would remain in Jordan for three months.

What have Israel and Jordan said?

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.

Notwithstanding France's refusal to acknowledge Israel's role in the rescue mission, the IDF orchestrated and executed critical aspects of the operation, with the Israeli army overseeing an hours-long procession of buses filled with White Helmets, women, and children into the Jewish state.

According to Netanyahu, Israel insists that the 1974 Agreement on Disengagement with Syria be respected the way it was before the civil war in Syria broke out.

In a statement on Monday the group said during the southwest campaign four of its volunteers were killed and dozens injured, four White Helmet centres were hit and rescue vehicles were destroyed by Syrian government bombardment.

Foreign minister Heiko Maas was quoted as saying that "the efforts of the White Helmets deserve admiration and respect". But Israel has said it will not allow the refugees to enter Israel.

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

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

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