US, allies set to evacuate Syrian aid workers from southwest

Displaced Syrians from the Daraa province fleeing shelling by pro-government forces gather to receive aid food in a makeshift camp near the Jordanian border and the town of Nassib, southern Syria, on July 2, 2018. (File photo: AFP)
Updated 20 July 2018
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US, allies set to evacuate Syrian aid workers from southwest

  • US officials say the United States is finalizing plans to evacuate several hundred Syrian civil defense workers and their families from southwest Syria
  • Two officials familiar with the plans said Thursday that the US, Britain and Canada are spearheading the evacuation that would transport members of the White Helmets group to transit camps

WASHINGTON: US officials say the United States is finalizing plans to evacuate several hundred Syrian civil defense workers and their families from southwest Syria as Russian-backed government forces close in on the area.
Two officials familiar with the plans said Thursday that the US, Britain and Canada are spearheading the evacuation that would transport members of the White Helmets group to transit camps in neighboring countries. From there, they will be sent to third countries, including Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and possibly Canada, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.
The officials, and a member of the White Helmets who is due to be evacuated from Quneitra province, said the operation appears to be imminent as the Syrian army continues to gain ground in its latest offensive. The White Helmets, who have enjoyed backing from the US and other Western nations for years, are likely to be targeted by Syrian forces as they retake control of the southwest, according to the officials.
The officials said planning for the evacuation has been taking place for some time but accelerated after last week’s NATO summit in Brussels.
“These are hard hours and minutes,” the White Helmets volunteer in Quneitra said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear for his life. “This is the worst day of my life. I hope they rescue us before it is too late.”
The evacuation is expected to take place from Quneitra, which straddles the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and where the civil defense team is trapped. It is the last sliver of land still outside government control in the region.
Since the government offensive began in June, the area along the frontier with the Golan Heights has been the safest in the southwestern region, attracting hundreds of displaced people because is along the disengagement line with Israel demarcated in 1974 after a war. The Syrian government is unlikely to fire there or carry out airstrikes.
Negotiations are also ongoing to evacuate armed rebels and their families who don’t want to accept the return of the rule of Bashar Assad’s government to Quneitra, which the rebels have controlled for years. The fighters will be evacuated to the northern part of Syria, where the opposition still holds sway.
Except for that sliver of land, the southern tip of the southwestern region lies along the border with Jordan and the Golan Heights and is occupied by a Daesh-affiliated group. The area is expected to be the target of the next government advances and the civil defense teams don’t operate there.
The White Helmets are not without controversy. They only operate in opposition-held areas, where government services are almost non-existent and aerial bombings are recurrent. Syrian government supporters accuse them of being politically affiliated with the rebel groups. Russia and the Syrian government have repeatedly accused them of staging chemical attacks in opposition areas, a charge that has never been proven.
They have continued to receive US support even as President Donald Trump presses ahead with his plans to withdraw all American forces from Syria as soon as Islamic State forces are routed.
In June, the State Department freed up a small portion — $6.6 million out of some $200 million — in frozen funding for Syria stabilization programs to keep the White Helmets operating through the end of this year.
In other parts of Syria, where government control has been restored, civil defense volunteers have almost always evacuated to other opposition-controlled areas. It is not clear why this time they will be evacuated out of the country.


Brother of Palestinian teen Tamimi sentenced for stone-throwing

Updated 21 August 2018
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Brother of Palestinian teen Tamimi sentenced for stone-throwing

  • Ahed Tamimi was teenage girl who became an icon of the Palestinian cause when she was arrested for slapping a soldier
  • Waed had already received a suspended sentence for stoning Israeli security forces in 2016

JERUSALEM: The brother of a teenager who became a symbol of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after slapping two soldiers has been sentenced to jail for throwing stones at a police officer, the army said Tuesday.
Waed Tamimi, the brother of Ahed Tamimi, confessed to his role in a March 2017 “violent riot” in which an Israeli police officer was wounded by stones thrown by Palestinians at his vehicle, according to a military court ruling from Monday.
Since he had already received a suspended sentence for stoning Israeli security forces in 2016, he was handed a 14-month sentence for the 2017 incident as part of a plea bargain, the court document said.
Asked by the court if he had anything to say, the 22-year-old said: “I have nothing to add. There will be no third time,” according to the ruling, which was published by the army on Tuesday.
The incident took place in Nabi Saleh in the occupied West Bank, where the Tamimi family lives.
Tamimi’s sister, Ahed, was released from prison last month after an eight-month sentence for hitting and kicking two Israeli soldiers in front of her house in the occupied West Bank.
In an interview the day after her release, the now 17-year-old told AFP that she understood she had become a “symbol” of the Palestinian cause.
Video of that incident went viral, leading to praise and support from Palestinians but scorn from Israelis who accused her activist family of using her in staged provocations.
Rights groups harshly criticized Israel for the length of Ahed Tamimi’s sentence.