UNITED NATIONS — Hundreds of volunteer Syrian medics hailed by global observers for assisting civilians throughout the country’s civil war were successfully evacuated to safely through Israel and Jordan over the weekend. The medics and their families were processed by the U.N.’s refugee agency and will eventually be resettled in Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom.
“White Helmets have been the target of attacks and, due to their high profile, we judged that, in these particular circumstances, the volunteers required immediate protection,” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a statement. “We therefore took steps with the aim of affording that protection to as many of the volunteers and their families as possible.”
After successfully retaking many of Syria’s major cities in recent years, the Syrian government has fought to recapture territory on the southwestern border with Israel. Members of the White Helmets and their families were among those pinned in by the intensifying military operation, and their predicament caught the eye of leaders attending a NATO summit in Brussels earlier this month.
A Jerusalem Post report detailed Sunday’s operation, in which Israeli personnel to screen those escaping across the Syrian-Israeli border, as well as assurances from western states that the White Helmets and other Syrians would receive refugee protections and not add to refugee populations in either Israel or Jordan.
According to the paper, the mission was approved only after personal appeals to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The Syrian government unsurprisingly condemned the weekend operation, painting the White Helmets as a “terrorist organization” and claiming that their rescue by an international coalition confirmed allegations that the group was a western-backed front.
Syria’s state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said: “Words are not enough no express the discontent which the Syrians feel towards these mean conspiracies and the limitless support provided by the Western states, Israel and Jordan to the ‘White Helmets’ organization and to the gangs of Daesh (ISIS).”
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley had a very different take on the Syrian medics, praising them for “tirelessly risking their own lives to rescue and give medical care to victims of the brutal Assad regime.”
She added: “We pray for a day when they can return to a peaceful and free Syria.”