‘Ugly crime’: 7 White Helmet members gunned down in Syria

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Members of the Syrian civil defense volunteers — known as the White Helmets — bury their comrades on Saturday. (AFP)
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The White Helmets paramedic group members on a rescue mission in Aleppo. (File photo by The white Helmets Twitter account @SyriaCivilDef)
Updated 13 August 2017
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‘Ugly crime’: 7 White Helmet members gunned down in Syria

BEIRUT: Gunmen early Saturday stormed an office of a Syrian paramedic group that is active in opposition-controlled areas, killing seven of its members and stealing two vehicles and other equipment in a northwestern region, the group and opposition activists said, while a suicide attack south of the country killed at least 23 rebels.
The Syrian Civil Defense group, more popularly known as the White Helmets, said in a statement that the attack happened in the early hours in the town of Sarmin.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the rare attack but it came amid tension in the area. Sarmin is in Idlib province, which witnessed clashes recently between Al-Qaeda-linked fighters and members of the ultraconservative Ahrar Al-Sham group that ended with Al-Qaeda fighters capturing much of the region.
The Al-Qaeda-linked Hay’at Tahrir al Sham — Arabic for Levant Liberation Committee, and also known as HTS — said over the past weeks that its members have discovered sleepers cells of the Daesh group who were planning an attack. Al-Qaeda’s affiliate, which used by to be known as the Nusra Front, has fought deadly battles with Daesh over the past years.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the seven were killed after being shot in the head, adding that the killings were discovered when volunteers from the White Helmets arrived to start a shift and found the bodies of their colleagues.
“Until now it is mostly likely a crime. It might also be an attack aimed to harm the image of the Nusra Front and to show that Idlib is not safe,” said Rami Abdurrahman who heads the Observatory.
An opposition activist based in Idlib who has been providing The Associated Press with information about the province for years said the attackers used pistols equipped with silencers, adding that people living nearby did not notice anything unusual.
The activist, who asked that his name not be used for fear of reprisals, said Daesh sleeper cells have been discovered in Sarmin. He added that most likely members of Daesh carried out the attack to show that Idlib is not safe.
The activist said the HTS-linked Judicial Committee is investigating the case.
Sarmin used to be a stronghold of the Jund Al-Aqsa extremist group that clashed with Al-Qaeda last year before many of its members were allowed to head to areas controlled by Daesh, whom they are fighting now.
The Syrian first-responders have been known to risk their lives to save people from the civil war, now in its sixth year. The White Helmets group was widely considered likely to win last year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
Elsewhere in Syria, a suicide attacker blew himself inside a training camp for the Army of Islam rebel group in the southern town of Naseeb, near the border with Jordan, killing more than 20 fighters.
The Observatory said Saturday that the Friday night blast killed 23 and wounded 20, some of whom were in critical condition.
Ahmad Al-Masalmeh, an opposition activist based in the southern province of Daraa, said about 80 Army of Islam members were having dinner inside a tent when the suicide attacker walked in and blew himself up. He said 30 were killed, 20 were wounded and six are still missing.
No one claimed responsibility for the deadly bombing but Daesh has previously claimed such attacks.


Palestine, Egypt offer air support as Israel battles wildfires

A firefighting aircraft flies over a forest near Kibbutz Harel, which was damaged by wildfires during a record heatwave, in Israel May 24, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 25 May 2019
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Palestine, Egypt offer air support as Israel battles wildfires

  • Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes on Thursday as fires raged
  • The fires were fueled by high temperatures and dry condition

JERUSALEM: Egypt and four European countries sent aircraft to help Israel battle wildfires that have forced the evacuation of some small towns, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday, as a record heatwave looked set to worsen conditions.
At an emergency briefing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had appealed for international help to combat the fires, and that firefighting planes were coming in from Greece, Croatia, Italy and Cyprus.
Egypt, on the orders of President Abdel-Fatah El-Sisi, had also sent two helicopters to assist Israel, Netanyahu told reporters.
The Palestinian Authority and Russia had also offered help, Netanyahu said.
Israel braced for wildfires on Friday amid a major heat wave that shows no signs of abating.
Israel “really appreciates” the help, Netanyahu said, singling out El-Sisi for sending aid.
“I am deeply thankful for the readiness of neighbors to help us in a time of crisis, just as we help them,” Netanyahu said.
Israel’s Fire and Rescue Service said blazes in a key corridor between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were mostly under control but difficult weather remained a conflagration risk.
“As of this moment, this (containment) is being done in the best possible way, but the challenge is yet ahead of us given the weather conditions, the winds and the extreme heat,” Netanyahu said.
Some 3,500 residents of small towns in the path of the fires were evacuated on Thursday, officials said. Dozens of homes have burned down.

Evacuations
Thousands of people were evacuated from towns and dozens of homes were burned on Thursday as fires raged, fueled by high temperatures and dry conditions. Over 500 acres of woodland have burned, said Nitai Zecharya, an Israeli official from the Jewish National Fund, known for planting forests in the country.
Zecharya said that while firefighters had brought most of the blaze under control, officials remained “very stressed” about strong winds fanning flames and “spreading fires to other fronts.”
The cause of the fires remains unclear, but they erupted following the Jewish festival of Lag Ba’Omer, which observers mark with bonfires.
A sweltering heat wave is pushing temperatures in parts of the country up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, or 43 Celsius.