Israel evacuates 'White Helmets' rescuers to Jordan in face of Syria advance

Israel evacuates 'White Helmets' rescuers to Jordan in face of Syria advance

Israel evacuates 'White Helmets' rescuers to Jordan in face of Syria advance

Hundreds of Syrian rescue workers from the United States-backed White Helmets group have been evacuated through Israel into Jordan, escaping an onslaught by the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad on one of the last opposition strongholds in the country.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said they had acted on a request from the USA and European nations.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has pledged to support the humanitarian workers and first-responders, and Canada is one of three countries that have reportedly agreed to take in some of the White Helmets and their families.

Israeli media identified the Syrians as belonging to the White Helmets organization.

A number of those evacuated were from the White Helmets volunteer rescue group, known as the Syrian Civil Defense. They were then escorted by Israeli and United Nations forces to a border crossing into Jordan.

In this Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015 file photo, comrades carry Ilias Mahmoud al-Taweel, a member of Syrian Civil Defence, or White Helmets, during his funeral in in Douma, the suburbs of Damascus.

The request came as the White Helmets volunteers and their families were threatened by advancing forces of the Syrian government in the south of the war-ravaged country.

Since the Syrian government offensive began in June, the area along the frontier with the Golan Heights has been the safest in the southwestern region, attracting hundreds of displaced people because it is along the disengagement line with Israel demarcated in 1974 after a war.

VideoIncredibly, this young girl was pulled alive from rubble in the Syrian city of Douma, after intense aerial bombardments.

A Jordanian government source said 422 people were brought from Syria, over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights frontier and into Jordan, down from a figure of 800 announced earlier by the foreign ministry in Amman. "We judged that, in these particular circumstances, the volunteers required immediate protection". They were besieged in a very unsafe area. "I therefore authorized for them to be transferred through Israel to other countries as an important humanitarian measure", the Israeli PM said.

Who are Syria's White Helmets?

The Israeli military, in coordination with its USA and European allies, evacuated hundreds of Syrian rescue workers known as the White Helmets from near its volatile frontier with Syria in a complex and first-of-a-kind operation.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said she "called for global leadership to support and help these heroes" during a meeting of foreign ministers at a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation leaders' summit in Brussels a week ago.

The Syrian government considers the group a "terrorist" organization because it works in areas controlled by its opponents, where state institutions and services are non-existent.

The White Helmets describe themselves as a volunteer workforce that acts to save people in Syria's war zones. They are credited for saving thousands of lives.

It was unclear how many White Helmet volunteers remained in both the Daraa and Quneitra provinces after the evacuations.

From Jordan, they will be transported to UK, Canada and Germany in the next few next months.

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