Syria slams ‘criminal’ evacuation of White Helmets by Israel

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The Israeli military said on Sunday it had rescued members of a Syrian volunteer civil organization from the volatile border area on the Golan Heights and evacuated them to a third country.

Riyad Salih said on Sunday that the evacuation of the White Helmets members and their families were blocked by the Bashar al-Assad regime, whose forces control Syria's borderline with Amman.

The operation, the first of its kind, was carried out at the request of the United States and several European countries, all of which provide funding to the White Helmets rescue group. "They passed through Israel and are now out of harm's way".

The operation to remove the rescue workers from the province of Quneitra took place at the request of Britain, Germany and Canada with a view to resettling the evacuees in the West on humanitarian grounds.

The United States and Russian Federation hailed the evacuation by the Israeli military of a Syrian volunteer civil organization from a volatile border area near the Golan Heights, although the two powers saw the operation in a sharply differing manner.

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

Some 800 people were evacuated to Jordan via the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights overnight, Israeli media say.

The statement, however, did not mention the group by name at the time, but German tabloid Bild said some 800 members of the "White Helmets" were expected to be brought to Jordan through Israel to be reportedly resettled later in the UK, Canada, and Germany.

He said the prospect of regime retaliation has forced the group's members to retreat to safer areas or flee.

The rockets fell inside Syrian territory and were part of internal fighting, a military statement said.

Russia's embassy in Israel slammed the evacuation mission on Monday, tweeting cynically that the only "positive consequence" of the operation was that "a chance that White Helmets will use chlorine in order to stage a chemical provocation in South-West Syria has decreased".

Smoke following the explosions in Syria is seen from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights near the Israeli Syrian border, July 19, 2018.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad also described the White Helmets as "a branch of al-Qaeda and al-Nusra" militant groups and a "PR stunt" by the U.S., the United Kingdom and France.

Since the offensive began, Jordan said it will not open its borders to the newly displaced Syrians.

Who are the White Helmets?

Addressing the visit in Monday's cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said, "I will meet today with a Russian delegation headed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the Chief of Staff of the Russian Army, Gerasimov".

The evacuees are being assisted by the UN Refugee agency in Jordan pending global resettlement, the secretaries said.

Its activation came after Israel on two separate occasions this month fired Patriot missiles at incoming drones from Syria.

Some Syrians have opted to be evacuated to northern Idlib province, where the opposition still holds territory.

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