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Member of Syrian White Helmets to receive Tipperary Peace Prize today

The group is credited with saving tens of thousands of lives in war-ravaged Syria.

white helmets A still from the documentary White Helmets Source: Netflix via YouTube

THE TIPPERARY INTERNATIONAL Peace Award is set to be presented to a member of the Syria Civil Defence, a group also known as the White Helmets, today.

Since 1984, the Tipperary Peace Convention has given the award to individuals or organisations who have “made a particularly noteworthy contribution to the peacemaking process”.

Martin Quinn, chairperson of the Peace Convention committee, said: “The award is a testament to the enormous bravery and courage shown by the White Helmets.”

The group of first responders has been credited with saving tens of thousands of lives in war-ravaged Syria, with about 200 of their volunteers being killed as a result.

Nedal Izddenm is set to receive the award on behalf of the White Helmets at a ceremony at the Great National Ballykisteen Golf Hotel in Co Tipperary today.

Representatives of the government, An Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces, the Irish Syria Solidarity Movement and the Irish Refugee Council are expected to attend, as are members of the Syrian community in Ireland, among others.

Previous winners of the award include activist Malala Yousafzai, former Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon and former Irish president Mary McAleese.

Last year, the White Helmets were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. When nominating the group, Wendy Chamberlin, president of the Middle East Institute, told Al Jazeera: “Their efforts to save lives in the most dangerous place on earth are awe-inspiring, and merit the deepest respect.”

Protest

A protest is being planned outside the hotel by Anti Imperialist Action Ireland, a group which has labelled the White Helmets “Al-Qaeda linked war criminals” and a key part of a “propaganda war” backed by the US and the UK.

In a statement, the group said: “That such terrorists would be invited to Ireland to be bestowed with a ‘peace award’ is an insult to the people of Ireland and Syria.”

The group has encouraged people to complain to the hotel where the event is taking place, saying “scores of campaigners” have already done so. The hotel was asked for comment about the situation but had not replied at the time of publication.

There have been accusations that the White Helmets have been involved in public-held executions in rebel-held areas of Syria. The organisation has denied this, and says it is neutral and unarmed.

Snopes, a US-based factchecking website, has reported that allegations the group are linked to terrorists are unfounded.

A film celebrating the White Helmets won an Oscar for best short documentary earlier this year.

Source: Netflix/YouTube

In response to the criticism, Quinn told TheJournal.ie: “We are going on concrete information that the White Helmets are a responsible group and not involved in terrorism in any way. There are no verified links between the White Helmets and fundamentalist Islamic groups.”

The Irish Syria Solidarity Movement said criticism of the White Helmets is “part of a concerted campaign mostly originating from the internet, including from sources with unashamedly pro-Russian and pro-Assad sympathies”.

The movement described members of the White Helmets as “outstanding humanitarians in the midst of a horrendous war”.

The Syrian Civil War has been raging since 2011, with the United Nations estimating that some 400,000 people have been killed in that time. Millions of people have fled the country, while millions of others have been displaced internally.

During the war, President Bashar al-Assad has received support from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah, while the rebels have been backed by the US, Turkey and the Gulf Arab states.

Read: UN commission ‘has enough to prosecute Assad for war crimes’

Read: Opinion: ‘Trump’s decision to stop supporting Syria’s rebels seals their fate’

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Órla Ryan

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