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Israel Helps Rescue 422 “White Helmets” from War-torn Syria

July 23, 2018

by: Ilse Strauss

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Evacuation of the “White Helmet” members from the war zone in southern Syria

Monday, 23 July 2018 | Tons of humanitarian aid transferred to desperate refugees. Border gates creaking open to admit gravely wounded civilians caught in the cross-hairs of fighting. Those same wounded civilians receiving life-saving medical treatment in Israeli hospitals. Throughout the seven years of the Syrian Civil War, Israel has made every effort—often behind the scenes and without much fanfare—to come to the aid of its war-torn neighbor.

The Jewish state’s latest and perhaps best publicized endeavor occurred over the weekend. On Sunday morning, Israel announced its part in the rescue and evacuation of hundreds of civilian Syrian rescue workers known as the “White Helmets” ahead of the advancing army of the Butcher of Damascus: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The 422 search and rescue volunteers together with their families “faced an immediate threat to their lives” in the embattled pocket of southwestern Syria, the Israel Defense Forces spokesperson said. Yet overnight on Saturday, they “passed through Israel” into Jordan “and are now out of harm’s way.”

The “White Helmets,” officially known as the Syria Civil Defense, is a civilian volunteer organization formed in 2014 to perform desperately needed urban medical evacuations, evacuation of civilians from danger areas and search and rescue services in the aftermath of bombings and air strikes. Braving mortal danger and staggering odds, the group of first responders is driven by their motto: “To save a life is to save all of humanity.” Their name is borrowed from the signature white hardhats worn by their members while combing the rubble for survivors. The group declared their impartiality in the civil war early on and operated mainly in the rebel-controlled parts of the country. In April 2018, the “White Helmets” revealed that they had saved more than 114,000 lives, while 204 of their members have paid the ultimate price in the line of duty.

Regardless of their life-saving work and neutrality, the advancing Russian-backed army of Assad put the lives of many a “White Helmet” and their families at “immediate” risk. As a result, the US, Canada, the UK and a number of other European nations turned to Israel for help—and Israel answered the call.

“Several days ago President Trump contacted me, as did Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau and others, and requested that we assist in evacuating hundreds of ‘White Helmets’ from Syria,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement released by his office. “The lives of these people, who have saved lives, were now in danger. I therefore authorized their transfer via Israel to other countries as an important humanitarian gesture.”

Israel earned international acclaim for its efforts.

“Thank you, Israel for helping to save @SyriaCivilDef,” tweeted Niels Annen, a minister of state at Germany’s Federal Foreign Office.

“Thank you Israel and Jordan for acting so quickly on our request,” UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt wrote on his Twitter account. “The [“White Helmets”] are the bravest of the brave and in a desperate situation; this is at least one ray of hope.”

For her part, EU foreign policy chief, Federicca Mogherini, said in a statement, “The EU recognizes the essential efforts of Israel and Jordan, and of all others—including several EU member states—who contributed to bringing the ‘White Helmets’ and their families to safety.”

In stark contrast, the Syrian state TV Al-Ikhbariya called the rescue of the “White Helmets” a “scandal.”

According to Germany’s Bild, the evacuation operation started at 9:00 p.m. on Saturday night and concluded right after midnight. The “White Helmets” and their families gathered at a designated spot on the Israel–Syria border, where the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] opened the gates and allowed the evacuees to enter. Israel provided medical treatment, food and water, after which the Syrian rescue workers boarded a waiting fleet of busses destined for Jordan.

“Standing on the border and receiving the families, mostly women and children, was an emotional experience,” said an IDF commander involved in the operation. “Families that arrived fearful, but when they reached the border with Israel, their eyes were filled with tears of happiness, knowing that they have gotten their lives back. I’m proud to be an officer in an army and a country that carries out an operation filled with values of humanity and compassion.”

“This is the essence of our work, and this moment is invaluable.”

The horrors of the Syrian Civil War will arguably be remembered as one of the biggest atrocities of our time. Hopefully, when the annals of history report on the bloodshed, destruction and heartbreak wrought over the past seven years, it will also make mention of Israel, the tiny nation viewed by the Syrians as their arch enemy that proved itself time and again as one of their only friends.

Posted on July 23, 2018

Source: (Bridges for Peace, 23 July 2018)

Photo Credit: Screenshot/Twitter/IDF@IDFSpokesperson

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