Israel Evacuates 800 White Helmets to Jordan in Face of Syria Advanceإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
Israel has evacuated 800 White Helmets rescuers and their family members threatened by advancing Syrian regime forces to Jordan for resettlement in Britain, Canada and Germany, Amman said Sunday.
Founded in 2013, the Syria Civil Defense, or White Helmets, is a network of first responders which rescues wounded in the aftermath of air strikes, shelling or explosions in rebel-held territory.
Jordan "authorized the United Nations to organize the passage of 800 Syrian citizens through Jordan to be resettled in western countries," the kingdom said.
"The government gave the permission after Britain, Germany and Canada made a legally binding undertaking to resettle them within a specified period of time due to 'a risk to their lives'."
An Israeli government source confirmed Israel's military had rescued 800 people who were taken to Jordan.
"Upon request of the U.S., Canada and European states Israel has completed a humanitarian effort to rescue members of a Syrian civil organization ('White Helmets') and families," Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon tweeted.
- Surrounded and in danger -
White Helmets head Raed Saleh said the evacuees had arrived in Jordan after being "surrounded in a dangerous region".
They were encircled in the provinces of Daraa and Quneitra, he said, including a number trapped between the border with the Golan Heights and advancing Russia-backed regime troops, he told AFP.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said she "called for global leadership to support and help these heroes" during a meeting of foreign ministers at the NATO leaders' summit in Brussels a week ago.
The White Helmets have rescued thousands of civilians trapped under the rubble or caught up in fighting in battered opposition-held zones along various fronts of Syria's seven-year conflict.
Since its formation, when Syria's conflict was nearing its third year, more than 200 of its volunteers have died and another 500 have been wounded.
The group's motto -- "To save one life is to save all of humanity" -- is drawn from a verse in the Koran, although the White Helmets insist they treat all victims, regardless of religion.
Some members have received training abroad, including in Turkey, returning to instruct colleagues on search-and-rescue techniques.
The group receives funding from a number of governments, including Britain, Germany and the United States, but also solicits individual donations to purchase equipment such as its signature hard hats.
- Award-winning documentaries -
Last year, a Netflix production called "The White Helmets" won an Academy Award for best short documentary.
A second film on the group, named "Last Men in Aleppo," was nominated for an Oscar in 2018.
The Israeli army said it evacuated the White Helmets overnight at the request of the United States and European countries, in what it called "an exceptional humanitarian gesture."
"The civilians were evacuated from the war zone in southern Syria due to an immediate threat to their lives.
"The civilians were subsequently transferred to a neighboring country," it said without elaborating.
Israel has been sending medical aid to civilians who have fled fighting in the Syrian-controlled part of the Golan Heights.
Israel seized 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) of the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it, in a move never recognized internationally.
On June 19, forces of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad launched an Russia-backed offensive to retake Daraa and Quneitra provinces.
Just a month later, government institutions look set to return to most of these two provinces through a combination of deadly bombardment and Moscow-brokered surrender deals.
These deals provide for rebels to hand over their heavy weapons and those who disagree with a regime takeover to be bused with family members towards opposition-held areas in the north of the country.
Jihadists are not party to these deals, and Russian planes bombarded a holdout of the Islamic State group in Daraa province overnight, a Britain-based war monitor said.
More than 20,000 civilians have fled bombardment on the IS-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 monitor.