Mon, Jul 23, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Israel rescues 800 Syrian volunteers

WHITE HELMETS:Jordan confirmed Israeli media reports that hundreds of Syrian civil defense volunteers and their families had arrived there on the way to Western countries

AP, JERUSALEM

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) yesterday said that it had rescued members of a Syrian volunteer civil organization from the volatile Syrian border area on the Golan Heights and evacuated them to a third country.

The announcement marked the first such Israeli intervention in Syria’s civil war, now in its eight year.

It was an “exceptional humanitarian gesture” that was performed at the request of the US and its European allies due to “an immediate threat to [Syrians’] lives,” the IDF said.

Israeli media reported that about 800 members of the Syrian rescue organization known as White Helmets and their families were evacuated overnight.

They were transferred to Jordan and would travel on from there to Britain, Germany and Canada, the reports said.

The Jordanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that 800 Syrian citizens had entered Jordanian territory to be resettled in Western countries.

Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Kayed said that the Syrians would remain in Jordan for three months.

“The request was approved based on pure humanitarian reasons,” he said.

The IDF said that 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.

US officials had said that they were finalizing plans to evacuate several hundred Syrian civil defense workers and their families from southwest Syria as Russian-backed government forces closed in on the Quneitra Governatorate.

The officials said that the White Helmets, who have enjoyed backing from the US and other Western nations for years, were likely to be targeted by Syrian forces as they retook control of the southwest.

Evacuation plans were accelerated after last week’s NATO summit in Brussels.

Since the Syrian government offensive began last month, the area along the frontier with the Israeli Golan Heights has been the safest in Syria’s southwestern region, attracting hundreds of displaced people because it is along the disengagement line with Israel demarcated after the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

The Syrian government is unlikely to fire there or carry out air strikes for fear of an Israeli response.

The White Helmets typically have operated in opposition-held areas across Syria, places where government services are almost non-existent, risking their lives to save civilians during government airstrikes and bombardments.

Over the past month, Syrian government forces aided by Russian air power have swept through southwestern Syria to consolidate government control over this strategic corner of the country, which straddles the border with Jordan and the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

With the new advances, government forces are, for the first time since the civil war began in 2011, retaking this territory from the rebels and restoring their positions along the disengagement line on the frontier with Israel that is part of a cease-fire agreement reached in 1974 between the two countries, which are formally still at war.

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