Syrian White Helmets evacuated by Israel


Jordan said on Sunday that it has taken in 800 Syrian White Helmets rescuers and their families from Israel and plans to transfer them to the United Kingdom, Canada and Germany.

More than 20,000 civilians have fled bombardment on the IS-held corner on the border with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan in the past 24 hours, fleeing into regime-held areas, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.

Israel confirmed the evacuation and said that the transfer was an "exceptional humanitarian gesture" done at the request of the "United States and additional European countries". He did not elaborate on the numbers of those evacuated.

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.

"Several days ago President Trump contacted me, as did Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau and others, and requested that we assist in evacuating hundreds of "White Helmets" from Syria", Netanyahu said in a statement from his office. Evacuation plans were accelerated after last week's North Atlantic Treaty Organisation summit in Brussels.

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Under a deal negotiated between Russian Federation with opposition groups, more convoys are expected to follow from the southwestern province, which is located adjacent to the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights region.

Officially called the Syrian Civil Defense but known by their distinctive white helmets, the group has operated a rescue service in rebel-held parts of Syria after aerial bombing of civilian areas.

Under the terms of the agreement, militants who do not wish to reconcile with the state are being bused to northern Syria where they will join more than 2 million people, around half of them displaced from other areas, in the final zone of opposition control.

The group have been taken to Jordan where they have been given temporary asylum.

The United Kingdom and Canada were quick to celebrate the evacuation, with UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt calling it "fantastic news" in a tweet Sunday.

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The deal brings the area back under government control and lets Syrian army brigades return to where they were stationed before Syria's seven-year-old conflict - posts near a 1974 demilitarized zone with Israel on the Golan frontier.

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

Through videos, pictures, and social media, the White Helmets are widely seen as having played an important role in showing the worldwide community the horrors of the Syrian civil war.

A rescue worker carrying a child following an alleged chemical weapons attack in the rebel-held town of Douma, near Damascus, Syria, April. In the past two years, the Israeli military says it has delivered more than 1,500 tons of food, 250 tons of clothing and almost a million litres of fuel.

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