Hundreds of ‘White Helmet’ rescue workers are evacuated from Syria

A ‘White Helmet’ rescuing a child in Syria

Hundreds of White Helmet rescue workers have been evacuated from Syria, with many to be given sanctuary in Britain.

Since 2013, the 3,000 White Helmet volunteers – also known as the Syria Civil Defence – have worked in rebel-held areas where Syria’s official emergency services do not venture.

Some of the volunteers and their families, about 800 in all, were moved into Jordan under the threat of advancing Syrian regime forces over Saturday night.

They will be resettled in Britain, Canada and Germany within three months, Jordan said yesterday. 

The country added: ‘The government gave the permission after Britain, Germany and Canada made a legally binding undertaking to resettle them within a specified period of time due to “a risk to their lives”.’

Those successfully evacuated included about 100 White Helmets, with the rest family members. It later emerged several hundred were unable to make the journey.

The Israeli army said it had evacuated the rescue workers overnight ‘due to an immediate threat’. 

The White Helmets have saved civilians from collapsing buildings after air strikes and been credited with rescuing more than 60,000 people.

Crucially the group has also documented chemical weapons attacks in the country, including the attack in Douma in April which led to the US, France and UK’s strike at President Bashar al-Assad’s bases.

White Helmet volunteers work around destroyed buildings in Douma in October 2016

White Helmet volunteers work around destroyed buildings in Douma in October 2016

White Helmets boss Raed Saleh said the evacuees had been encircled in the provinces of Daraa and Quneitra.

This included a number trapped between the border with the Golan Heights and advancing Russia-backed regime troops. It marked the first such Israeli intervention in Syria’s civil war, now in its eighth year.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt praised the operation yesterday.

He 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.’

The Government said the UK would provide protection to ‘as many of the volunteers and their families as possible’.