‘We are trapped’: White Helmets plead for evacuation from Syria

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Members of the Syrian civil defence volunteers, also known as the White Helmets, bury their fellow comrades during a funeral in Sarmin, a jihadist-held town nine kilometres east of Syria's northwestern city of Idlib on August 12, 2017. (AFP)
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A wounded Syrian is carried by a member of the Syrian Civil Defence, known as the white helmets, to a hospital in the rebel-held besieged town of Arbin, in this November 16, 2017 file photo. (AFP)
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In this file photo taken on April 8, 2017, members of the Syrian civil defence volunteers, also known as the White Helmets, remove a victim from the rubble of his house, following a reported air strike by government forces on a rebel-held area in the southern Syrian city of Daraa. (AFP)
Updated 27 July 2018
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‘We are trapped’: White Helmets plead for evacuation from Syria

  • More than 200 volunteers have been killed in the seven-year civil war
  • Syria war estimated to have killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced 11 million

BEIRUT: A senior member of the Syrian “White Helmet” rescue workers called on Thursday for the United Nations to save his colleagues trapped in the southwest by advancing government forces.
Israel and Western powers helped evacuate 422 White Helmets and their families from Syria into Jordan last week but others were unable to make it out because of government checkpoints and the expansion of Daesh in the area.
Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, backed by the Russian military, have captured most of the southern province of Daraa in an offensive that began in June.
“We want the UN or any international agency to remove the White Helmet volunteers from Daraa to Idlib so we can continue to work in the north of Syria” said Majd Khalaf, one of the founders of the White Helmets. “It is so hard when White Helmets have to leave people behind — and they also have to start their lives over,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Istanbul, Turkey.
He declined to say how many White Helmets were still at risk in the area, but said that the group has more than 3,700 women and men in Syria and that more than 200 volunteers have been killed in the seven-year civil war.
The group, known officially as Syria Civil Defense, has been widely hailed in the West and credited with saving thousands of people in rebel-held areas during years of bombing attacks by Damascus and its allies.
Its volunteers, famed for their white helmets, say they are neutral. But Syrian President Bashar Assad and his backers, including Russia, have dismissed them as Western-sponsored propaganda tools and proxies of insurgents.
The Syrian government on Monday condemned last week’s evacuation as a “criminal operation” undertaken by “Israel and its tools.”
Government forces backed by Russian air power have swept through southwestern Syria in the last month, in one of the swiftest campaigns of a war estimated to have killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced 11 million.
“After the control of the regime on all borders and the whole area, we are trapped and cannot move,” one White Helmet in Daraa, who declined to give his name, said via WhatsApp, adding that he fears being arrested.
Raed Al Saleh, director of the White Helmets, said his volunteers were “helpless” as they are a civilian organization.
“Unfortunately we wish we could stay in these areas, but it is not in our hands,” he said by phone from Turkey. “We are asking for their evacuation to protect them.”


Houthis mobilize to fight ahead of UN envoy’s visit

Pro-government drive in an industrial district in the eastern outskirts of the port city Hodeidah. (AFP)
Updated 19 November 2018
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Houthis mobilize to fight ahead of UN envoy’s visit

  • Dozens of Houthis put on a show of strength on the outskirts of Sanaa on Saturday
  • UN special envoy Martin Griffiths said on Friday that he plans to travel to Sanaa in the coming week

SANAA: Iran-backed Houthi militias have said they are ready to mobilize more fighters to the frontline despite a lull in battleground Hodeidah, as the UN envoy prepares to visit the country to boost peace efforts.

Dozens of Houthis put on a show of strength on the outskirts of Sanaa on Saturday, apparently getting ready to head toward Hodeidah, a Red Sea city home to a vital port.

Men, some of whom looked very young, were lining up with bandoliers around their shoulders and rifles in their hands, chanting Houthi slogans.

Residents said on Sunday that relative calm had held in Hodeidah city since pro-government forces announced a pause in their offensive last week amid international calls for a cease-fire and UN-led peace efforts.  They added, however, that they remain on edge.

Meanwhile, coalition fighter jets on Sunday carried out a series of strikes targeting Houthi positions west of Marib. The strikes, which were accompanied by shelling, came after the Iranian-supported militia launched ballistic missiles toward the city of Marib. Coalition forces successfully intercepted the missiles, Yemeni army media said.

UN special envoy Martin Griffiths said on Friday that he plans to travel to Sanaa in the coming week to finalize arrangements for peace talks to take place in Sweden soon.

Hameed Assem, a member of the militia delegation expected to take part in the negotiations, said that Houthis will continue to mobilize if UN efforts for peace fail to materialize.

Pro-government forces on Wednesday suspended their 12-day offensive in Hodeidah.

Griffiths said on Friday that both the government and the Houthis have shown a “renewed commitment” to work on a political solution and have given “firm assurances” that they will attend the talks. No date has yet been set.

(AFP)