Syria denounces White Helmet rescue as 'criminal operation'
24 July, 2018, 22:42 | Author: Clarence Schmidt
The Syrian government has condemned a multilateral operation to evacuate hundreds of rescue workers from the war-torn country as a "criminal process" meant to destabilise Syria.
Founded in 2013, the Syria Civil Defence, or White Helmets, works to rescue those wounded by attacks in rebel-held territory.
The UK had backed an global effort to rescue members of the group and their families from the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi tweeted Sunday that the country had originally planned to evacuate 800 Syrians but the actual number settled at 422.
More than 400 rescue workers and family members from Syria's southern provinces of Daraa and Quneitra were ferried into Israel on Sunday, then taken into Jordan for resettlement into Western countries.
Syrian authorities have long described the Civil Defense search-and-rescue group, which are popularly known as the White Helmets, as a terror organization.
The foreign ministry in Damascus slammed the evacuation on Monday, calling it a "criminal operation", and repeating its accusation that the White Helmets were a front for "terrorists".
The rescuers and their families are expected to be resettled in Europe and Canada.
Russia's embassy in the Netherlands welcomed the White Helmets' departure.
Britain, Germany and Canada have agreed to take the White Helemts - who dig people out from rubble after airstrikes - within three months.
Canada has offered to accept dozens of White Helmets and their families from Syria following a dramatic rescue over the weekend that was orchestrated by the Israeli military and personally encouraged by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. "The accusations against us have grown", he added, "and there is a new one-that we collaborate with Israel".
Meanwhile, Jordanian government spokeswoman Jumana Ghunaimat said her country has not been asked to receive another group of White Helmets.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed Sunday that Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump were among those who asked Israel to rescue the White Helmets in recent days, after leaders first talked about helping the White Helmets during the recent North Atlantic Treaty Organisation summit in Brussels.
According to Netanyahu, Israel insists that the 1974 Agreement on Disengagement with Syria be respected the way it was before the civil war in Syria broke out.
There is also video evidence of White Helmets "assisting" with a public execution by taking a man's body away from the scene after he was shot dead. But Israel has said it will not allow the refugees to enter Israel.
The civil war in Syria has dragged on for more than seven years, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths and an unrelenting humanitarian crisis.
More than 650,000 Syrian refugees are registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Jordan but the kingdom says it hosts 1.3 million Syrian refugees.
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