Syria slams 'criminal' evacuation of White Helmets by Israel

The pullout of the White Helmets from Syria, carried out by Israel on the US' and Canada's request, reveals "true colors and hypocrisy" of the controversial group, showing who actually controls it, Russia's Foreign Ministry said.

It was Israel's first published operational use of the mid-range missiles, which are jointly manufactured by US firm Raytheon Co.

The Israeli military said its actions did not reflect a change to Israel's non-intervention policy in Syria's war, where all the warring parties are considered hostile. The officer added that after the army's victory in southwestern Syria, Israel is forced to accept the return of the SAA to the occupied Golan Heights border.

The White Helmets have enjoyed backing and received finances and training from the United States and other Western nations for years.

Also Monday, Israel said it fired a pair of missiles to intercept two missiles fired from Syria in Israel's direction.

The evacuated White Helmets are now expected to be resettled in a number of Western countries, namely Canada, Germany, France and some others. They were in imminent danger after Syrian armed forces advanced on their area.

Israel rebuffed on Monday a new Russian offer to keep Iranian forces in Syria away from the Golan Heights ceasefire line, an Israeli official said, complicating Moscow's bid to stabilise the country amid a waning civil war. A spokeswoman for the German interior ministry said Berlin would take in eight White Helmets plus their families.

Syrian state media cited "reports" that a deal for Quneitra province in the southwest had been reached.

The transferred Syrians will remain in a restricted area in Jordan for the time being, Jordanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Mohammad al-Kayed told the Jordanian state-run Petra news agency, before onward transfer to Britain, Germany and Canada within the next three months.

Ottawa confirmed that Trudeau spoke to Netanyahu Saturday about "the regional security situation and the evacuation of White Helmets from Syria".

"It was the only alternative for our trapped volunteers who would otherwise have faced detention or death at the hands of the Syrian regime and its ally Russian Federation", it said.

Israeli forces were expecting around 800 people, but just over half of that number is believed to have crossed the border.

Their official name is the Syrian Civil Defence, which began in early 2013 as an organisation of volunteers from all walks of life, including electricians and builders.

Its main task soon became to rescue civilians in war zones in the immediate aftermath of air strikes, and it says its volunteers have saved the lives of more than 100,000 people during the civil war. Some 200 members have been killed.

But Syria's government and its ally Russian Federation have accused the group of links to jihadist groups.

The group was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 for its humanitarian efforts. Since its establishment, the group has received at least $55 million from the British Foreign Office, $23 million or more from the US Office of Transition Initiatives and untold millions from Qatar.

  • Joey Payne