Diplomacy

U.S., EU, UK Praise Israel’s “Daring” Rescue of White Helmets from Syria

The United States, United Kingdom, European Union all expressed appreciation for what a top U.S. official called the “daring” rescue of over 400 members of the Syrian Civil Defense organization, also known as the White Helmets, and their families, from southwestern Syria into Jordan.

Following the rescue, Jason Greenblatt, the administration’s Special Representative for International Negotiations, wrote,  “Following a request from @potus and other allied leaders, last night Israel conducted a daring humanitarian rescue from Syria of hundreds of “White Helmets” personnel and their families and transferred them safely to Jordan.”

Jeremy Hunt, the newly installed British Foreign Secretary tweeted, “Fantastic news that we – UK and friends – have secured evacuation of White Helmets and their families – thank you Israel and Jordan for acting so quickly on our request. The WH are the bravest of the brave and in a desperate situation this is at least one ray of hope.”

Federica Mogherini, the foreign policy chief for the EU, wrote of the White Helmets’ rescue that the EU “recognises the essential efforts of #Israel, #Jordan and all others who contributed to bringing them to safety.”

Similarly, Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs wrote, “The White Helmets are courageous volunteers and first responders who risk their lives to help their fellow Syrians. Our thanks to Israel, Jordan, US, UK, Germany and our other partners who have worked closely with Canada to make the evacuation of WH possible.”

In an emergency overnight humanitarian operation on July 21, Israel evacuated 422 civilians –members of the Nobel-nominated White Helmets, and their families – from along its border with southwest Syria, The BBC reported on Sunday. The plan had been to evacuate 800 White Helmets and their families, but only 422 could be extracted.

The IDF said the unprecedented move came at the request of the United States, the United Kingdom and other members of the international community, as Syrian-regime forces tighten their grip on the region, trapping the volunteers and their families and posing “immediate risk” to their lives.

“The civilians were evacuated from the war zone in Southern Syria due to an immediate threat to their lives. The transfer of the displaced Syrians through Israel is an exceptional humanitarian gesture,” the IDF observed. The Israeli military clarified, however, that “Israel continues to maintain a non-intervention policy regarding the conflict.”

The evacuees were transferred to Jordan and, according to Jordanian sources, “Britain, Germany and Canada made a legally binding undertaking to resettle them within a specified period of time” as a result of the severity of their case.

The evacuation followed a suspected Russian air strike on July 17, which hit a school in the southwestern village of Ain el-Tineh, killing at least 10 people. A spokesperson for the White Helmets claimed that the facility was used as a shelter for civilians displaced by the fighting.

As pro-Assad forces prepared to complete their control over the border region with Israel on the Golan Heights, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Putin spoke by phone on July 20. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman also spoke to his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, reportedly to discuss the coordination in Syria between the two countries militaries.

Following their summit in Helsinki on July 16, U.S President Donald Trump and the Russian President said at a press conference that Israel’s interests in Syria needed to be protected. “The situation on the Golan Heights must be restored to what it was after the 1974 [separation of forces] agreement,” Putin said. The American President added: “Creating safety for Israel is something that both President Putin and I would like to see very much,” and that “Russia and the United States will work jointly [in this regard].”

Despite pledges from the two world powers to contain Iran’s influence in the neighboring country, Israel has insisted on its right to protect its own interests in Syria. Israeli aircraft are believed to have struck a military facility in the country’s Hama province on July 22, which is suspected to have been a scientific research center developing missiles and chemical weapons. According to pro-Hezbollah media sources, members of the Lebanese terrorist group and personnel from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were killed in the attack.

[Photo: Israel Defense Forces / Twitter ]