Israel evacuates 800 White Helmets to Jordan in face of Syria advance

The White Helmets are a group of volunteers who provide search and rescue services in response to bombing and evacuations of civilians from danger areas

The White Helmets are a group of volunteers who provide search and rescue services in response to bombing and evacuations of civilians from danger areas

Israel has evacuated 800 White Helmets volunteer rescuers and their family members threatened by advancing Syrian regime forces to Jordan for resettlement in Britain, Canada and Germany, Amman has said.

The Israeli military said in a statement it had carried out "a humanitarian effort to rescue members of a Syrian civil organisation and their families. due to an immediate threat to their lives", adding the move was "an exceptional humanitarian gesture".

800 White Helmet rescue workers and their families were evacuated from southern Syria through the Golan Heights and into Jordan.

The military said its actions did not reflect a change to Israel's non-intervention policy in Syria's war, now in its eight year, where all the warring parties are considered hostile.

The reports say they were transferred to Jordan and would travel on from there to Britain, Germany and Canada.

The agency identified the Syrians as civil defence workers who fled areas controlled by the Syrian opposition after attacks there by the Syrian army, and said Britain, Germany and Canada had agreed to resettle them within three months.

Founded in 2013, the Syria Civil Defence, or White Helmets, are a network of first responders who rescue wounded in the aftermath of air strikes, shelling or blasts in rebel-held territory.

Since its formation, when Syria's conflict was nearing its third year, more than 200 of its volunteers have died and another 500 have been wounded.

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The group have been taken to Jordan where they have been given temporary asylum.

They were encircled in the provinces of Deraa and Quneitra, he said, including a number trapped between the border with the Golan Heights and advancing Russia-backed regime troops, he told AFP.

"The civilians were subsequently transferred to a neighbouring country", it said without elaborating.

Syria has only just begun to emerge from a devastating conflict that began in 2011 when the Assad regime cracked down on demonstrators with unexpected ferocity.

The agricultural area has become the main battleground in the sensitive border region after a major Russian-backed Syrian army offensive routed other rebel groups who were once backed by Washington, Jordan and Gulf states. Despite worldwide pleas, Israel has consistently pushed back against global pressure to take in refugees, even as neighboring Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey have altogether accepted millions of Syrian civilians.

Last week, Israel delivered 72 tons of food, approximately 70 tents, 9,000 liters of fuel, as well as pallets of medicine, medical equipment, clothing and children's toys as part of six special operations in several locations in south west Syria.

An explosion is seen at Quneitra at the Syrian side of the Israeli Syrian border as it is seen from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Israel July 22, 2018.

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