Britain and Israel worked secretly together to save Syria’s White Helmet rescue workers who were spirited over the Golan Heights border in a daring mission on Saturday night.
Details emerged after more than 420 humanitarians and their families were saved by the IDF after they became trapped on Syria’s southern border, amid a government onslaught to retake some of the last territory still held by insurgents.
Israeli troops closed roads in the Golan Heights hours before the operation and later transported the Syrians into Jordan at three points. Israel is still technically at war with Syria and military manoeuvres on the border must remain top-secret.
Britain, Germany and Canada agreed to resettle the White Helmets, who are now in Jordan, having been taken over the Golan Heights by Israeli soldiers.
The group was set up in 2013 by former British intelligence officer James Le Mesurier, and funded with public and private donations. They have saved thousands of lives, lost more than 200 volunteers, and been nominated for a Nobel Prize.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the rescue mission was the right thing to do, after revealing that President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has asked him to help.
“These are people who have saved lives and whose lives were in danger,” tweeted Netanyahu. “I therefore authorised their transfer via Israel to other countries as an important humanitarian gesture.”
The resettlement arrangements were coordinated by Jordan, whose leaders have already taken in more than 630,000 Syrian refugees since 2011. The country, which has very few water resources, has now said it cannot take any more.
In a statement, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt paid tribute to the White Helmets, who had “saved over 115,000 lives during the Syrian conflict, at great risk to their own”.
They added: “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.”
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
— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) July 22, 2018