Israel evacuates 800 White Helmets to Jordan in face of Syria advance

Updated 24 July 2018
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Israel evacuates 800 White Helmets to Jordan in face of Syria advance

  • Israeli military said it had completed “a humanitarian effort to rescue members of a Syrian civil organization and their families ... due to an immediate threat to their lives”
  • The evacuation came at the request of the US and several European countries

AMMAN: Israel has evacuated 800 White Helmets rescuers and their family members threatened by advancing Syrian regime forces to Jordan for resettlement in Britain, Canada and Germany, Amman said Sunday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the operation an “important humanitarian step” and said he ordered it after requests from US President Donald Trump and Canadian premier Justin Trudeau.
Founded in 2013, the Syria Civil Defense, or White Helmets, is a network of first responders which rescues the wounded in the aftermath of air strikes, shelling or explosions in rebel-held territory.
Jordan “authorized the United Nations to organize the passage of 800 Syrian citizens through Jordan to be resettled in western countries,” foreign ministry spokesman Mohammed Al-Kayed said.
“The government gave the permission after Britain, Germany and Canada made a legally binding undertaking to resettle them within a specified period of time due to ‘a risk to their lives’.”
The Israeli military said it had transferred the rescue workers and their families to a neighboring country, adding the operation was “exceptional” and that Israel would continue its “non-intervention policy” in the Syrian conflict.
“A few days ago President Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau and others approached me with the request to help extract from Syria hundreds of White Helmets,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
“These are people who save lives and now find themselves in deadly danger, therefore I approved bringing them through Israel to another country as an important humanitarian step.”
White Helmets head Raed Saleh said the evacuees had arrived in Jordan after being “surrounded in a dangerous region.”
They had been encircled in the Syrian provinces of Daraa and Quneitra, which respectively border Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, he told AFP.
Israel seized 1,200 square kilometers (460 square miles) of the Golan from Syria in 1967, in a move never recognized internationally.
Britain’s Foreign Office said it had helped facilitate the overnight evacuations.
“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,” it said.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told Bild newspaper that Germany would take in eight White Helmets members and their families.
The move was “an expression of my stance of ensuring humanity and order in migration policy,” he said.
Canada will take in up to 50 White Helmets volunteers and their families, totalling up to 250 people, the country’s public broadcaster CBC said citing senior officials.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said she had “called for global leadership to support and help these heroes” at last week’s NATO summit.
Israel’s Haaretz daily said the evacuees also included orphans who had been injured in the Syrian fighting.
It was unclear how many White Helmet volunteers remained in both the Daraa and Quneitra provinces after the evacuations.
But a volunteer in Daraa city, who asked to remain anonymous, said he had decided to stay despite being given the choice to leave.
“It’s our country and we have a right to live in it in safety,” he told AFP, however adding he was among a minority who wished to remain.
“We are first and foremost a humanitarian organization, not a military one, or a terrorist one as the regime alleges.”
The White Helmets have rescued thousands of civilians trapped under the rubble or caught up in fighting in opposition-held zones along various fronts of Syria’s seven-year conflict.
Since its formation, when Syria’s conflict was nearing its third year, more than 250 of its volunteers have been killed.
The group’s motto — “To save one life is to save all of humanity” — is drawn from a verse in the Qur’an, although the White Helmets insist they treat all victims, regardless of religion.
Some members have received training abroad, including in Turkey, returning to instruct colleagues on search-and-rescue techniques.
The group receives funding from a number of governments, including Britain, Germany and the United States, but also solicits individual donations to purchase equipment such as its signature hard hats.
On June 19, Syrian government forces launched a Russia-backed offensive to retake Daraa and Quneitra provinces.
Just a month later, regime forces have regained control of most of these two provinces through a combination of deadly bombardment and Moscow-brokered surrender deals.
Militants are not party to these deals, and Russian planes bombarded a holdout of the Daesh group in Daraa province overnight, a Britain-based war monitor said.
More than 20,000 civilians have escaped bombardment on the Daesh-held corner in the past 24 hours, fleeing into regime-held areas, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.


Iranian crude exports fall further as Trump’s sanctions loom

Updated 19 min 43 sec ago
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Iranian crude exports fall further as Trump’s sanctions loom

  • The Islamic Republic has exported 1.33 million barrels per day so far in October to India, China, Turkey and the Middle East
  • Iran may not yet have cut production to match the rate of decline in its exports, as the country appears to be storing more oil on ships

LONDON: Turkey and Italy are the last buyers of Iranian crude outside China, India and the Middle East, according to tanker data and an industry source, the latest sign that shipments are taking a major hit from looming US sanctions.
The Islamic Republic has exported 1.33 million barrels per day so far in October to India, China, Turkey and the Middle East, according to Refinitiv Eikon data. No vessels are shown heading to Europe with Iranian crude.
However, an industry source who also tracks the exports estimated shipments at 1.5 million bpd, including vessels which are not showing on AIS satellite tracking, of which a 1 million-barrel tanker is going to Italy.
That’s down from at least 2.5 million bpd in April, before President Donald Trump in May withdrew the United States from a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed sanctions. The figures also mark a further fall from 1.6 million bpd in September.
The expected loss of a sizeable amount of Iranian supply has helped drive a rally in oil prices, which on Oct. 3 hit their highest since late 2014 at $86.74 a barrel. Crude has since eased to $81 although analysts say the Iranian export drop remains supportive.
“It’s one of the reasons why prices are still above $80,” said Eugen Weinberg, analyst at Commerzbank.
The October figures add to signs that buyers are sufficiently wary of the US sanctions to stop or scale back their Iranian crude dealings, and that exports are falling more steeply than some in the market expected.
For sure, definitive export data is hard to uncover. Tanker schedules are often adjusted, exports vary week by week and the tracking of tankers, while easier than in the past due to satellite information, remains both art and science.
In the first week of October, Iran’s crude exports averaged 1.1 million bpd according to Refinitiv and less than 1 million bpd according to another industry source.
While Washington has said it wants to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero, Iran and Saudi Arabia say that is unlikely to happen. The Trump administration is considering waivers on sanctions for countries that are reducing their imports.
India, a major buyer, has ordered Iranian oil for November.
Iran, which has pledged to block any OPEC supply increase that the country deems to be against its interests, says it has found new buyers for its oil and its crude output has fallen only slightly.
For September, Iran told OPEC its crude output dropped by 50,000 bpd to 3.76 million bpd, while consultants and government agencies that OPEC uses to monitor production reported a larger fall to 3.45 million bpd.
Indeed, Iran may not yet have cut production to match the rate of decline in its exports, as the country appears to be storing more oil on ships, as it did during sanctions that applied until the 2015 nuclear deal.