Damascus condemns White Helmet evacuation as "criminal operation"

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian government on Monday condemned the evacuation of hundreds of Syrian White Helmet rescue workers and their families with the help of Israeli soldiers, calling it a 'criminal operation' undertaken by 'Israel and its tools'. The rescue workers and their families crossed out of Syria into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights before arriving in Jordan over the weekend, fleeing an offensive by Syria and its Russian ally to take control of southwest Syria from rebels. Israel said it had helped with the evacuation at the request of U.S

Reuters July 24, 2018 00:08:19 IST
Damascus condemns White Helmet evacuation as "criminal operation"

Damascus condemns White Helmet evacuation as quotcriminal operationquot

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian government on Monday condemned the evacuation of hundreds of Syrian White Helmet rescue workers and their families with the help of Israeli soldiers, calling it a "criminal operation" undertaken by "Israel and its tools".

The rescue workers and their families crossed out of Syria into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights before arriving in Jordan over the weekend, fleeing an offensive by Syria and its Russian ally to take control of southwest Syria from rebels.

Israel said it had helped with the evacuation at the request of U.S. President Donald Trump and other leaders - and there had been fears that the rescue workers' lives were at risk.

The Syrian government has accused the White Helmets, also known as Syria Civil Defence, of being a Western-sponsored terrorist organisation. President Bashar al-Assad has called the White Helmets part of al Qaeda in Syria.

The White Helmets was established as a rescue service in rebel-held areas of the country, where its volunteers have often worked to save people trapped under the rubble of government bombardment.

Syrian state news agency SANA, citing a foreign ministry official, said the evacuation "exposed the true nature of the organisation known as the White Helmets", calling it a risk to stability and security "because of its terrorist nature".

The group said its people and buildings have been specifically targeted by the Syrian government and its allies throughout the more than seven-year-old war.

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.

"Since our formation, 251 volunteers have been killed in the line of duty, the majority from 'double-tap strikes'," the group said.

The White Helmets said 98 male and female volunteers and 324 family members were now in Jordan, having travelled through the occupied Golan Heights.

As Assad has won back areas such as eastern Aleppo and Ghouta, the rescue workers have left on buses to rebel-held areas of the north as part of agreed surrender deals, along with fighters and civilians who fear a return of government rule.

In the southwestern campaign, however, the White Helmets said the deals agreed "did not include any guarantees of safe passage for displaced humanitarian workers to other areas of Syria", making the international evacuation necessary.

"It was the only alternative for our trapped volunteers who would otherwise have faced detention or death at the hands of the Syrian regime and its ally Russia," it said.

A Jordanian government source said the evacuees will be kept in a "closed" location in Jordan and resettled in Britain, Germany and Canada within three months.

A second non-Jordanian source said the original plan had been to evacuate 800 people, but only 422 made it out as operations were hampered by government checkpoints and the expansion of Islamic State in the area.

(Writing by Tom Perry and Lisa Barrington; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Ros Russell)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

Updated Date:

TAGS:

also read

France, Germany to agree to NATO role against Islamic State - sources
| Reuters
World

France, Germany to agree to NATO role against Islamic State - sources | Reuters

By Robin Emmott and John Irish | BRUSSELS/PARIS BRUSSELS/PARIS France and Germany will agree to a U.S. plan for NATO to take a bigger role in the fight against Islamic militants at a meeting with President Donald Trump on Thursday, but insist the move is purely symbolic, four senior European diplomats said.The decision to allow the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to join the coalition against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq follows weeks of pressure on the two allies, who are wary of NATO confronting Russia in Syria and of alienating Arab countries who see NATO as pushing a pro-Western agenda."NATO as an institution will join the coalition," said one senior diplomat involved in the discussions. "The question is whether this just a symbolic gesture to the United States

China's Xi says navy should become world class
| Reuters
World

China's Xi says navy should become world class | Reuters

BEIJING Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday called for greater efforts to make the country's navy a world class one, strong in operations on, below and above the surface, as it steps up its ability to project power far from its shores.China's navy has taken an increasingly prominent role in recent months, with a rising star admiral taking command, its first aircraft carrier sailing around self-ruled Taiwan and a new aircraft carrier launched last month.With President Donald Trump promising a US shipbuilding spree and unnerving Beijing with his unpredictable approach on hot button issues including Taiwan and the South and East China Seas, China is pushing to narrow the gap with the U.S. Navy.Inspecting navy headquarters, Xi said the navy should "aim for the top ranks in the world", the Defence Ministry said in a statement about his visit."Building a strong and modern navy is an important mark of a top ranking global military," the ministry paraphrased Xi as saying.