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July 30, 2018 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Israel Evacuate Hundreds of Syrian “White Helmets” from Syria

The brutal 7-year civil war in Syria is moving into its penultimate act. The Syrian Arab Army [SAB] has begun to liquidate the last remaining areas of resistance in the country. The Israeli defence force [IDF] have evacuated about 100 members of the group to Jordan through the annexed Golan heights at the behest of western governments, namely the US, UK, and France. The “White Helmets”, officially The Syrian Civil Defence Forces, have proved to be a somewhat divisive group. Syria, Russia, and Iran governments view them as aids abetting Islamic terrorists, yet the West views them as humanitarian heroes slaving away to help civilians amid the carnage of the war. The group staunchly maintains that they are non-partisan. In my view, both sides of the story are true. While it is an undeniable fact that the White Helmets have been doing exemplary work to help civilians in areas being attacked, there have been certain troubling reports of their helping terrorist elements of the rebels. Indeed, as the rebel movement is more or less exclusively dominated by various Salafi groups such as Al-Nusra and Daesh, this theory would seem to hold some merit. A somewhat more questionable claim, and one that has a whiff of conspiracy theory, isthat the White Helmets have been involved in certain covert actions such as forging video and photographic evidence illustrating the effects of government bombardments.
The videos show what the Syrian government calls “crisis actors” — people paid to come and fake some sort of tragedy, and “stolen bodies” — bodies from morgues placed to fake attacks. These claims were further peddled by former Pink Floyd frontman, Roger Waters, who called the White Helmets a “fake organisation who provide cover for terrorists and jihadists” — a claim you would expect from far-right provocateurs and pro-Assad media outlets. An interesting point to bear in mind: there are few-to-no western journalists based in the areas that the group operates, thus it is hard to verify whether such claims are true or false… a thought to get your inner conspiracy theorist going.
According to BBC, an operation to evacuate hundreds of White Helmets from Syria appears to have been carried out during June. They state the original plan was to evacuate around 800 members of the group. However, only 100 have appeared to make it, with 342 family members in tow. The rest had their escape routes blocked by the constantly fluctuating battle lines, in particular the expansion of the ISIS front in the south west of the country. As Mark Dugan further elaborates, this operation is believed to have been a one-off. The fate of the remaining members of the group seems rather grim.
On a more cynical note, one ponders Israel’s motive. To quote the IDF Twitter account, it was an “exceptional humanitarian gesture” on the Israelis’ part. Up to this point Israel has been loath to get involved in any meaningful way in the conflict.

With the border to Syria sealed, refugees have flooded countries such as Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan. The fact this operation was done at the request of (or strong arming from) western powers implies a less altruistic nature to the operation, especially as they were immediately transferred to Jordan pending resettlement in Germany, Britain, and Canada.

Possibly the most questionable aspect of this operation was Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, justifying letting the White Helmets through. He has made a statement saying, “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. These are people who have  saved lives and whose lives were in danger. Therefore, I approve their passage through Israel to additional countries, as an important humanitarian gesture”.

While the virtue of the operation isn’t under question, the statement issued by this tyrant, while appearing magnanimous, reeks of nothing more than a vainglorious and self-serving public relations exercise. This is the man who has sat and watched the country be engulfed in flames for several years, and has been launching repeated military incursions into Syria (so much for non-interference), not to mention the plight of the Palestinians under his rule, with hundreds being killed and wounded this year alone.
As an interesting side note: perhaps one of the most galling things about this for Mr Assad is, not so much the evacuation of people he deems to have been aiding terrorists, but also the fact they were taken through the Israel-occupied Golan heights, a region Syria and the international community consider to be illegally occupied.


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