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In Unprecedented Move, Israel Evacuates White Helmets

Syria's vaunted rescuers pulled from Golan Heights frontier in 'exceptional humanitarian gesture'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 22, 2018 6:33 AM CDT
In this June 14, 2017, file photo, a White Helmet carries a child after airstrikes hit a school in Syria's Daraa province. The Israeli military said Sunday it had rescued White Helmets from the volatile...   (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP, File)
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(Newser) – The Israeli military evacuated hundreds of members of the White Helmets, a Syrian volunteer organization, from the volatile frontier area on the Golan Heights and transported them to Jordan, reports the AP. It was the first such Israeli intervention in Syria's lengthy civil war, now in its eighth year. Jordan confirmed 800 Syrians entered its territory to be resettled in Western countries. The White Helmets and their families had been stranded along the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights following a government offensive. The Israeli military said the overnight operation was an "exceptional humanitarian gesture" done at the request of the United States and its European allies due to "an immediate threat to the (Syrians') lives." The military said its actions did not reflect a change to Israel's non-intervention policy in Syria's war, where all the warring parties are considered hostile.

The Syrians will remain in Jordan for three months before moving on to Britain, Germany, and Canada, a Jordanian Foreign Ministry rep said. "The request was approved based on pure humanitarian reasons." Raed Saleh, head of the White Helmets, said a number of volunteers and their families were evacuated from a dangerous, besieged area. Officials said the White Helmets were likely to be targeted by Syrian forces retaking control of the southwest. Evacuation plans were accelerated after last week's NATO summit. The White Helmets typically operate in opposition-held areas where government services are almost non-existent, voluntarily risking their lives to save hundreds of civilian lives during relentless government airstrikes. Syrian state TV Al-Ikhbariya reported the Israeli evacuation of the White Helmets, calling it a "scandal" and saying "terrorist groups" now have "zero options."

(Read more Syria stories.)

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