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Israel evacuates 800 White Helmets from Syria to Jordan

Jordan says it has taken in the volunteers and their families and plans to transfer them to the UK, Canada and Germany.

Israel has evacuated 800 White Helmets rescuers and their families from Syria to Jordan overnight at the request of the United States and European countries. 

On Twitter, the Israeli military said it had "recently completed a humanitarian effort to rescue members of the Syrian civil organisation and their families" after a "request of the United States and additional European countries". 

The Israeli military also tweeted that the "civilians were subsequently transferred to a neighbouring country".

It did not give details regarding the number of those evacuated, but Jordan on Sunday said it had taken in 800 White Helmets rescuers from Israel and plans to transfer them to the UK, Canada and Germany.

Canadian officials told public broadcaster CBC that they "agreed" to accept 50 White Helmets volunteers and their families, which could mean up to 250 people.

The request came as the White Helmets volunteers and their families were threatened by advancing forces of the Syrian government in the south of the war-ravaged country.

Raed al-Saleh, head of the Syrian Civil Defence, confirmed that some of its volunteers were evacuated. 

"A number of volunteers were evacuated to their families for purely humanitarian reasons," he said. 

"They were trapped in a dangerous area," he added. 

Advancements in south

The White Helmets came to prominence in 2012 for their work rescuing those trapped in rubble after air raids by Syrian government and Russian warplanes. 

According to their website, the White Helmets have been directly funded by Mayday Rescue, a UK-based company, and Chemonics, a US government contractor that also works in Rwanda, Honduras and the Maldives, specialising in international development and management.

On Saturday, Canada said it was working with the UK and Germany to "ensure the safety of the White Helmets and their families". 

Syrian forces, backed by a Russian air campaign, have been pushing into the edges of Quneitra province following a relentless aerial bombardment campaign last month that routed rebels in adjoining Deraa province.

Last week, a deal was reached between the opposition in Quneitra and Russian negotiators acting on behalf of the Syrian government. It provides for the safe passage of residents who do not wish to live under the rule of President Bashar al-Assad. Thousands of rebels and their families had started to arrive in the rebel-controlled northwest on Saturday. 

Pro-government forces have recaptured 90 percent of the territory in the south through similar surrender deals with the opposition whereby the latter agrees to also hand over medium to heavy weaponry. 


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