Israel evacuates hundreds of Syria's White Helmets to Jordan


Regime forces had increased their offensive in the area in recent weeks, making the rescue effort even more urgent.

Israel earned plaudits on Sunday for helping to evacuate hundreds of Syrian civil defense workers from southern Syria to Jordan overnight at the request of Western countries.

Despite the intervention, the IDF said that "Israel continues to maintain a non-intervention policy regarding the Syrian conflict".

However, Jordan's government confirmed it had "authorised the United Nations to organise the passage of 800 Syrian citizens through Jordan to be resettled in Western countries".

Raed Saleh, head of the Syrian Civil Defence as the White Helmets are also known, said a number of volunteers and their families were evacuated from a unsafe, besieged area and had reached Jordan.

Israel has not given an exact number of evacuees.

Up to 800 rescue volunteers along with their families were evacuated from southern Syria.

Members of the Civil Defence, also known as the "White Helmets", are seen inspecting the damage at a Roman ruin site in Daraa, Syria December 23, 2017.

After they were besieged in a unsafe area, and now they arrived to Jordan. They have reached Jordan, thank God.

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

However, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies - including Russian Federation - have said they see the White Helmets as proxies of Islamist-led insurgents and Western-sponsored propaganda tools.

More news: Ryanair flight cancellations to hit United Kingdom and Ireland routes
More news: Trump invites Putin to Washington
More news: Real Madrid lining up £112 million bid for Eden Hazard

It said they were transferred to a neighboring country, which it did not identify, and that the evacuation came at the request of the United States and several European countries.

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.

German weekly magazine Bild, which broke news of the evacuation and published footage of buses used to transport the Syrians across Golan, said 50 of them would be granted asylum by Berlin.

"White Helmets have been the target of attacks and, due to their high profile, we judged that, in these particular circumstances, the volunteers required immediate protection", said British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt in a joint statement Sunday.

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

"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".

"The White Helmets have witnessed vicious atrocities committed by the Assad regime and its backers", she said in a statement, adding "Canada has been a key partner of the White Helmets and is proud to have provided funding to support their emergency training and to increase the number of women White Helmets".

"The request was approved based on pure humanitarian reasons", ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Kayed said.

Who are Syria's White Helmets?

The White Helmets describe themselves as a volunteer workforce that acts to save people in Syria's war zones.

CNN's Oren Liebermann reported from Jerusalem, Sheena McKenzie wrote in London.