Israel Evacuates White Helmets in Face of Syrian Advance

Syrian army pushes into Quneitra province: state tv, rebels

USA officials had said they were finalizing plans to evacuate several hundred Syrian civil defense workers and their families from southwest Syria as Russian-backed government forces closed in on the Quneitra province.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said they were acting on a request from the USA, the United Kingdom and other European nations.

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

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon later confirmed the evacuees were White Helmet members and their families, though neither he nor the IDF named the country receiving the civilians.

Officially called the Syrian Civil Defence but known by their distinctive white helmets, the group has operated a rescue service in rebel-held parts of Syria.

The capture of a string of villages, announced by the army on Saturday, comes as evacuation of rebels and their families resumed for the second day from villages along the Golan frontier towards rebel-controlled northern Syria.

The latest deal, agreed on Thursday, saw fighters and civilians evacuated from Quneitra province, which borders the Golan Heights.

"They were trapped in a risky area and arrived in Jordan now", the volunteer group said.

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

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The Syrian government managed to get full control over a strategic territory at the border with Jordan following the operation.

VideoIncredibly, this young girl was pulled alive from rubble in the Syrian city of Douma, after intense aerial bombardments.

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On June 19, forces of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad launched an Russia-backed offensive to retake Daraa and Quneitra provinces.

"White Helmets have been the target of attacks and, due to their high profile, we judged that, in these particular circumstances, the volunteers required immediate protection", it said.

"The transfer of the displaced Syrians through Israel is an exceptional humanitarian gesture", the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated.

Netanyahu said Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and others had spoken to him recently asking for help in extracting the White Helmets.

The Israeli military, in coordination with its United States and European allies, evacuated hundreds of Syrian rescue workers known as the White Helmets from near its volatile frontier with Syria in a complex and first-of-a-kind operation.

More than 250 White Helmets have been killed in the war since 2013.

Britain's Foreign Office said it had helped facilitate the overnight evacuations. Evacuation plans were accelerated after last week's North Atlantic Treaty Organisation summit in Brussels.

As such, they have been targeted by government forces. They are credited for saving thousands of lives.

Aron Lund, a Syria expert with the Century Foundation, said after funding and promoting the White Helmets for years, the evacuation should not be a surprise.

Jordan, which has closed its borders to refugees, says it had permitted the United Nations bring in 800 rescue workers and their families into the country.

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