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Hundreds of White Helmets rescued in face of Syria advance

Jordan’s foreign ministry announced in a statement that the kingdom received 422 Syrian citizens.

Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

ISRAELI FORCES HELPED rescue hundreds of White Helmets rescuers and their family members threatened by advancing Syrian regime forces to Jordan on Sunday for resettlement in western countries.

Jordan’s foreign ministry announced in a statement that the kingdom received 422 Syrian citizens, after earlier saying it had given permission for 800 to arrive.

Foreign ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Kayed said Britain, Germany and Canada had initially agreed to accept around 827 rescuers and their relatives, but eventually settled on a figure of 422.

He said they would be allowed to stay in Jordan for a period of time not exceeding three months.

A Canadian government source told AFP that a second group of White Helmets and their relatives was also supposed to be rescued but “could not reach the border because of the situation on the ground”.

The group is still in Syria and it is not certain that a new effort to bring them out can be mounted due to the “precarious” situation there, according to the source.

Founded in 2013, the Syria Civil Defence, or White Helmets, is a network of first responders which rescues the wounded in the aftermath of air strikes, shelling or explosions in rebel-held territory

The Israeli military said it had transferred the rescue workers and their families to a neighbouring country, adding that the operation was “exceptional”.

White Helmets head Raed Saleh said the evacuees had arrived in Jordan after being “surrounded in a dangerous region”.

They had been encircled in the Syrian provinces of Daraa and Quneitra, which respectively border Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, he told AFP.

Israel seized 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) of the Golan from Syria in 1967, in a move never recognised internationally.

The United States praised Israel and Jordan for facilitating the evacuations and Britain, Canada and Germany for agreeing to give the evacuees new homes.

“We are glad that these ‎brave volunteers, who have saved thousands of lives, are now out of harm’s way,” the US State Department said of the White Helmets.

Britain’s Foreign Office said it had helped facilitate the overnight evacuations.

“White Helmets have been the target of attacks and, due to their high profile, we judged that, in these particular circumstances, the volunteers required immediate protection,” it said.

 © AFP 2018 

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