Hundreds of Syrian White Helmets evacuated in joint UK and international effort

Hundreds of members of the “White Helmets” have been evacuated from Syria in a joint effort by the UK and international partners.

Jordan said 800 people including members of the "White Helmets" civil defence group had been relocated from southwest Syria, where Damascus’ forces are advancing against rebels.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt confirmed the successful evacuation this morning.

They are now being assisted by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) in Jordan, while they await international resettlement.

The Israeli military said that overnight it had completed "a humanitarian effort to rescue members of a Syrian civil organisation and their families …due to an immediate threat to their lives".

On Saturday, Israeli security forces closed down roads in the occupied Golan Heights, on the Syrian frontier, ahead of the evacuation operation.

A Jordanian foreign ministry spokesman said the kingdom had allowed the UN to arrange the entry and passage of 800 Syrian civil defence workers. said their lives were in danger after a government offensive that regained rebel-held parts of southern Syria.

The kingdom agreed to a request by Britain, Germany and Canada to give the White Helmet workers temporary asylum in the kingdom before settlement in the West on humanitarian grounds, spokesman Mohammad al Kayed said.

He said the aid workers would remain at a "closed" location and that Britain, Germany and Canada had agreed to resettle them within three months.

Officially called the Syrian Civil Defense but known by their distinctive white helmets, the group has operated a rescue service in rebel-held parts of Syria after aerial bombing of civilian areas. They are credited for saving thousands of lives.

In a joint statement Foreign Secretary Jeremy and International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said: “The White Helmets have saved over 115,000 lives during the Syrian conflict, at great risk to their own.

"Many White Helmets volunteers have also been killed while doing their work – trying to rescue civilians trapped in bombarded buildings or providing first aid to injured civilians.

"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.

"We therefore took steps with the aim of affording that protection to as many of the volunteers and their families as possible.”

“We pay tribute to the brave and selfless work that White Helmets volunteers have done to save Syrians on all sides of the conflict.”

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