Syria brands evacuation of White Helmets 'criminal'

Netanyahu and Lavrov in an archive

The Associated Press first reported on Friday that US officials were finalizing plans to evacuate several hundred Syrian civil defence workers and their families from southwest Syria as Russian-backed government forces closed in on the Quneitra province, along the Golan Heights frontier.

The Israeli military issued a statement after the operation, saying it was done at the request of the USA and certain unnamed European countries.

Russian Federation and Syria must hunt down and prosecute members of the White Helmets for "war crimes", Syria's Grand Mufti has said shortly after Israel "evacuated" a large number of the group's members at the request of the United States and Canada.

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

Ninety-eight male and female White Helmet volunteers were able to escape to Jordan with 324 members of their families, it said in a statement.

Foreign ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Kayed said the kingdom had accepted the members of the Syrian rescue organisation for "purely humanitarian reasons" as their lives had been at risk.

Petra said they would remain in a closed area in Jordan and that Britain, Germany and Canada had agreed to resettle them within three months.

Also known as Syrian Civil Defence, the White Helmets operate in rebel-held parts of war-ravaged Syria.

The latest disagreement arose in a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a senior Russian delegation dispatched to Jerusalem as Syrian government forces routed rebels near the Golan.

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The White Helmets had become trapped in an area of south-western Syria near the border with the Golan Heights after an offensive by the Syrian military. The military said that did not mean Israel's policy of non-intervention in the conflict had changed.

Britain said the operation was possible due to the joint diplomatic efforts, hailing the efforts of the White Helmets volunteers to save lives in opposition areas.

The Jordanian government says they will soon be resettled in Canada, Germany or the UK.

More than 20,000 civilians have escaped bombardment on the IS-held corner in the past 24 hours, fleeing into regime-held areas, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

"We will not stop taking action in Syria against Iran's attempts to establish a military presence there", he said in a statement from his office.

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

As Damascus and its allies pursue victory, there appears little chance of the kind of negotiated peace Assad's adversaries say is needed to stabilize the country and encourage millions of refugees to return.

Hundreds of them were stuck in a pocket of southern Syria, fearing advancing Syrian government forces.

Those who reject the deal will be given safe passage out to the opposition-held province of Idlib in the northwest, according to terms that were also reported by a military news outlet run by Lebanon's Hezbollah group.

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