ITV News — July 22, 2018
Israel has successfully evacuated 800 White Helmet volunteers and their families from Syria and moved them to neighbouring Jordan on the request of the UK and other nations.
The group was evacuated from the Golan Heights, near Israel’s border, as Syria’s Russian-backed government forces closed in.
It marked the first such Israeli intervention in Syria’s civil war, now in its eighth year.
New Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt praised the operation on Sunday, describing the news as “fantastic”.
The 800 Syrian citizens will remain in Jordan for three months before eventually being resettled in Britain, Germany and Canada.
Fantastic news that we – UK and friends – have secured evacuation of White Helmets and their families – thank you Israel and Jordan for acting so quickly on our request. The WH are the bravest of the brave and in a desperate situation this is at least one ray of hope
— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) July 22, 2018
Mr Hunt tweeted: “Fantastic news that we – UK and friends – have secured evacuation of White Helmets and their families – thank you Israel and Jordan for acting so quickly on our request.
“The WH are the bravest of the brave and in a desperate situation this is at least one ray of hope.”
Israel’s military said the operation, which was carried out overnight, was an “exceptional humanitarian gesture” that was done at the request of the United States and its European allies due to “an immediate threat to (Syrians’) lives”.
A Jordanian military spokesperson confirmed the details, saying: “The request was approved based on purely humanitarian reasons.”
Following an Israeli Government directive and at the request of the United States and additional European countries, the IDF recently completed a humanitarian effort to rescue members of a Syrian civil organization and their families
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) July 22, 2018
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.
US officials had said they were finalising plans to evacuate several hundred Syrian civil defence workers and their families from south-west Syria as Russian-backed government forces closed in on the Quneitra province.
The officials said The White Helmets, who have enjoyed backing from the United States and other Western nations for years, were likely to be targeted by Syrian forces as they took control of the south-west. Evacuation plans were accelerated after last week’s Nato summit in Brussels.
Since the Syrian government offensive began in June, the area along the frontier with the Golan Heights has been the safest in the south-western region, attracting hundreds of displaced people because it is along the disengagement line with Israel demarcated in 1974 after a war.
The Syrian government is unlikely to fire there or carry out air strikes for fear of an Israeli response.
The White Helmets have typically operated in opposition-held areas across Syria, places where government services are almost non-existent, voluntarily risking their lives to save hundreds of civilians during government air strikes and bombardments.
Over the last month, Syrian government forces aided by Russian air power have swept through south-western Syria to consolidate government control over this strategic corner of the country that straddles the border with Jordan and the frontier with Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
With its new advances, government forces are, for the first time since the civil war began in 2011, retaking this territory from the rebels and restoring their positions along the disengagement line on the frontier with Israel that is part of a ceasefire agreement reached in 1974 between the two countries formally still at war.