Israel evacuates 800 White Helmets to Jordan in face of Syria advance

Israel evacuates 800 White Helmets to Jordan in face of Syria advance

Israel evacuates 800 White Helmets to Jordan in face of Syria advance

Hundreds of members of Syria's "White Helmet" civil defense group and their families fled advancing government forces and slipped over the border into Jordan overnight with the help of Israeli soldiers and Western powers, officials said.

The evacuations from Quneitra, which borders the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, came after a Russia-brokered agreement was reached earlier this week to see rebels hand over the territory to the Syrian regime.

The Israeli military said the evacuation came at the request of the U.S. and a number of European countries.

He told The National that the relocated people had been encircled in the provinces of Deraa and Quneitra, but did not elaborate on the exact numbers of those moved.

The announcement marked the first such Israeli intervention in Syria's civil war, now in its eight year.

The White Helmets have been the target of a disinformation campaign by Syrian and Russian regime propaganda outlets, with false claims of having close ties with terrorist activities, including blaming them for Syrian and Russian chemical attacks on civilians.

Around 800 White Helmet rescue workers and their families have been evacuated from Syria by Israel "due to an immediate threat to their lives".

The plan had been to evacuate 800 White Helmets and their families, but only 422 made it. The UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) administers a buffer zone between the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Syria.

The group, known famously as the White Helmets, is a network of first responders which rescue wounded in the aftermath of air strikes, shelling or explosions in rebel-areas.

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The group have been taken to Jordan where they have been given temporary asylum.

The White Helmets have rescued thousands of civilians trapped under the rubble or caught up in fighting in battered opposition-held zones along various fronts of Syria's seven-year conflict.

Since the offensive began, Jordan said it will not open its borders to the newly displaced Syrians.

As such, they have been targeted by government forces. Jordan hosts at least 650,000 registered Syrian refugees, according to the United Nations, but Amman says a similar number of undocumented Syrians are also in the kingdom.

The opposition said the Syrian army were expected to be deployed in areas abandoned by rebels once the evacuations are completed and heavy weapons given up by rebels.

Meanwhile, the reconciliation process continues in the region, evacuating the militants into Idlib and settling the statuses of those who want to stay in the government-held territories.

The United Kingdom and Canada were quick to celebrate the evacuation, with UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt calling it "fantastic news" in a tweet Sunday.

Panicked passengers, fearing for their lives, posted pictures of the militia surrounding their buses on social media. In the past two years, the Israeli military says it has delivered more than 1,500 tons of food, 250 tons of clothing and almost a million liters of fuel.

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