NEWS
22/07/2018 09:56 BST | Updated 22/07/2018 11:16 BST

White Helmet Members Evacuated Overnight From Syria, Some To Come To UK

Jordan will house those removed in a 'closed location' until they can move to the West.

REUTERS/Alaa al-Faqir
Members of the Civil Defence, also known as the 'White Helmets', are seen inspecting the damage at a Roman ruin site in Daraa, Syria December 23, 2017. 

The Israeli military has evacuated 800 members of the White Helmets and their families from a Syrian border area to Jordan.

The civil defence volunteers had been stranded in the border area with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights following the latest Syrian government offensive in southwestern Syria.

Jordan confirmed that 800 Syrian citizens have entered its territory to be resettled in Western countries including the UK.

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, now in its eighth year, where all the warring parties are considered hostile.

The Syrians would remain in Jordan for three months before moving on to the UK, Germany and Canada, the Jordanian Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Mohammed al-Kayed said.

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

Raed Saleh, head of the Syrian Civil Defence as the White Helmets are also known, said a number of volunteers and their families were evacuated from a dangerous, besieged area and had reached Jordan. He did not elaborate on the numbers of those evacuated.

The Associated Press first reported on Friday that US officials were finalising plans to evacuate several hundred Syrian civil defence workers and their families from south-west Syria as Russian-backed government forces closed in on the Quneitra province, along the Golan Heights frontier.

The officials said the White Helmets, who have enjoyed backing from the United States and other Western nations for years, were likely to be targeted by Syrian forces as they retook control of the south-west. Evacuation plans were accelerated after last week’s Nato summit in Brussels.

Since the Syrian government offensive began in June, the area along the frontier in the Golan Heights has been the safest in the south-western region, attracting hundreds of displaced because of its location along the disengagement line with Israel, demarcated in 1974 after a war. Thousands of civilians had taken shelter near the frontier to escape the government offensive.

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

The White Helmets have typically operated in opposition-held areas across Syria, places where government services are almost non-existent, voluntarily risking their lives to save hundreds of civilian lives during government air strikes and bombardments.

The government and Russia view the White Helmets as “agents” of foreign powers and have regularly accused them of staging rescue missions or chemical attacks.

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

With its 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 in the Golan Heights.