White Helmets expected to be resettled in UK after rescue from Syria

Rescue workers known as the White Helmets are expected to be resettled in Britain after an evacuation from Syria’s conflict-scarred southern border.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a joint statement with the International Development Secretary that the “brave and selfless” volunteers required “immediate protection”.

The UK had backed an international effort to rescue members of the group and their families from the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

They had fled as a Syrian government offensive in the south-west of the country intensified earlier this summer.

The regime considers the White Helmets a “terrorist” organisation because it works in areas controlled by its opponents. They are often targeted during attacks.

Jordan has agreed to temporarily house the 422 evacuees, but its Foreign Ministry said Britain, Germany and Canada had pledged to resettle them.

Spokesman Mohammed al-Kayed said the Syrians would remain in a closed area for up to three months before moving on.

On Saturday, the Foreign Office refused to comment on whether the volunteers would be settled in the UK.

Mr Hunt and Penny Mordaunt said in a joint statement: “Following a joint diplomatic effort by the UK and international partners, a group of White Helmets volunteers from southern Syria and their families have been able to leave Syria for safety.

“They are now being assisted by the UNHCR in Jordan pending international resettlement.

“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.”

Israeli forces carried out the rescue on Saturday night following a request from the “US, Canada, and EU countries”.

It was the first such intervention the country has had in Syria’s civil war, now in its eighth year.

A spokesman for the Israel Defence Forces said the operation was an “exceptional humanitarian gesture”.

But the military vowed to stay firm in its commitment to a non-intervention policy – where all the warring parties are considered hostile.

- Press Association

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