Israel Evacuates White Helmets in Face of Syrian Advance

Israel Evacuates White Helmets in Face of Syrian Advance

Israel has evacuated 800 White Helmets volunteer rescuers and their family members threatened by advancing Syrian regime forces to Jordan for resettlement in Britain, Canada and Germany, Amman has said.

Founded in 2013, the Syria Civil Defence, or White Helmets, is a network of first responders who rescue wounded in the aftermath of air strikes, shelling or blasts in rebel-held territory.

More than 20,000 civilians have fled bombardment on the Isis-held corner on the border with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan in the past 24 hours, fleeing into regime-held areas, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Russian and Syrian jets stepped up their bombing of an Islamic State bastion along the Jordan-Israel border in southwestern Syria, as the militants pushed into areas abandoned by other rebel groups, diplomatic and opposition sources said.

It added that the White Helmets and their family members were transferred to a neighbouring country, which it did not name. They have reached Jordan, thank God.

"Following an Israeli government directive and at the request of the United States and additional European countries, the IDF recently completed a humanitarian effort to rescue members of a Syrian civil organization and their families", the army said in a statement. They were besieged in a very unsafe area.

White Helmets head Raed Saleh said the workers had arrived in Jordan after being "surrounded in a unsafe region".

Through videos, pictures, and social media, the White Helmets are widely seen as having played an important role in showing the worldwide community the horrors of the Syrian civil war.

The civilians' passage out of Syria was organized by the UN, Petra reported.

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The evacuation took place from Quneitra, which straddles the frontier with the Golan Heights and where the civil defense team was trapped.

On 19 June, forces of Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, launched a Russia-backed offensive to retake Deraa and Quneitra provinces.

Welcoming their evacuation, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt 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".

Hunt described the White Helmets as "the bravest of the fearless", adding that "in a desperate situation this is at least one ray of hope".

In a statement released early Sunday morning Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland pledged Canada's continued support for the White Helmets.

Syria's state-run news agency SANA reported on Sunday that Israel "smuggled" the White Helmets to Jordan, saying the volunteer group had links to terrorist groups including the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.

"At a meeting of foreign ministers on the occasion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation leaders' summit in Brussels a week ago, I called for global leadership to support and help these heroes".

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

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