UK founder of Syrian White Helmets group found dead in Turkey

James Le Mesurier, founder and director of Mayday Rescue. (File/AP)
Updated 12 November 2019

UK founder of Syrian White Helmets group found dead in Turkey

ISTANBUL: James Le Mesurier, the British founder of the Mayday Rescue organization that established and trained Syrian civil defense group the White Helmets, was on Monday found dead in Turkey.

The former British Army officer’s body was discovered near to his apartment in the Beyoglu neighborhood of Istanbul. According to media reports, he and his wife had recently left their home in Turkey’s Princes’ Islands to undergo anti-stress treatment in Istanbul.

However, the cause of death is not yet known, and Turkish authorities have launched an investigation.

“We have no details about the incident so far. We will wait for a few days and see if this incident will have any repercussions on the performance of the civil defense troops,” Mustafa Hajj Yousuf, head of the White Helmets, told Arab News. 

“We hope that there will be no negative impact on the work of our teams on the ground.”

Yousuf speculated that Le Mesurier’s death could have been the work of organized criminals.

Former intelligence soldier, Le Mesurier, attracted more than 3,000 volunteers to his nonprofit organization to operate and conduct civil defense activities inside opposition-held areas in Syria and predominantly Idlib, the latest bastion of rebels.

The group is known for its search and rescue operations for thousands of victims of Russian and Syrian airstrikes and Le Mesurier was honored by the British Queen for his work in Syria.

In a statement, the White Helmets said: “We have learned with shock and sadness the news of the death of James Le Mesurier, founder and director of the humanitarian organization Mayday Rescue, early on Monday at his home in Tophane, Istanbul. Mayday is one of the institutions supporting the White Helmets.”

Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times, the White Helmets was funded by the British and German governments as well as US President Donald Trump’s administration after a freezing of funds.

The group also documented war crimes in Syria, including the use of chemical weapons.

Russia considers the White Helmets to be affiliated to terror group Al-Qaeda, and the Russian foreign ministry has been a harsh critic of Le Mesurier.

Navvar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, said: “The White Helmets, as an organization in Syria, is well-known for its amazing works to save lives.”

He noted that pro-Assad (Syrian President Bashar) and Russian media had sometimes criticized White Helmets operations in militant group Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) areas.

“Their mission and their vision don’t worry about who control the area. They are concerned with saving the lives of civilians wherever they are. The only thing I care about them is that they risked their lives to save lives,” Saban added.

Halid Abdurrahman, a researcher and analyst on the Middle East and North Africa, said it was still too early to comment on whether Le Mesurier’s death was suicide or murder.

Only three das ago Maria Zakharova, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman, claimed Le Mesurier was a “former agent of Britain’s MI6, who has been spotted all around the world.”

Iran nuclear deal parties meet as accord nears collapse

Updated 54 min 19 sec ago

Iran nuclear deal parties meet as accord nears collapse

  • Envoys from Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and Iran will take part in the meeting
  • Iran insists that under the agreement it has the right to take measures in retaliation for the US’s withdrawal from the deal

VIENNA: The remaining signatories to the faltering 2015 Iran nuclear deal will meet in Vienna on Friday with the survival of the landmark agreement at stake after Tehran vowed to continue to breach the deal’s limits on its nuclear program.
Envoys from Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and Iran will take part in the meeting, which is the first time the six parties will have gathered in this format since July.
Since May, Iran has taken a series of measures, including stepping up uranium enrichment, in breach of the 2015 deal, with another such move likely in early January.
Iran insists that under the agreement it has the right to take these measures in retaliation for the US’s withdrawal from the deal in 2018 and reimposition of crippling sanctions.
Since last month, European members have in turn begun raising the possibility of triggering the so-called “dispute resolution mechanism” foreseen in the accord, which could lead to the resumption of UN sanctions on Iran.
On the eve of what was already likely to be a strained meeting, Britain, France and Germany accused Iran of developing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, in a letter to the UN on Thursday.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif dismissed the allegation as “desperate falsehood.”
However, despite the mounting tension observers say Britain, France and Germany are unlikely to trigger the dispute resolution mechanism on Friday when their diplomats attend the joint commission meeting chaired by senior EU official Helga-Maria Schmid.
Analysts say if UN sanctions are re-imposed and the deal falls apart, Iran could also withdraw from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
“It’s not clear whether that’s worth the benefit,” Ali Vaez from the International Crisis Group told AFP.
But he warned the risk of the deal collapsing was increasing as Iran was “running out of measures that are easy to reverse and non-controversial.”
“Both sides are locked into an escalatory cycle that is just very hard to imagine that they would step away from,” he said.
Francois Nicoullaud, former French ambassador to Iran, also says tensions were expected to continue to rise.
“Maybe it won’t be this time, but (the deal falling apart) will certainly be in the background of the discussions,” Nicoullaud told AFP.

Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani warned Sunday that if European partners triggered the dispute mechanism, Tehran may “seriously reconsider” its commitments to the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which monitors the deal’s implementation.
European efforts to shield Iran from the effects of US sanctions by creating a mechanism to carry on legitimate trade with the Islamic republic have borne little fruit, much to Tehran’s frustration.
The EU is growing increasingly concerned by Tehran rowing back from its commitments.
The dispute resolution mechanism in the deal has numerous stages, but it can eventually culminate in the UN Security Council voting on whether Iran should still have relief from sanctions lifted under the deal.
In such a scenario, says Vaez, “we will have a major non-proliferation crisis on our hands in the sense that the Russians and the Chinese have already declared they would not recognize the return of (sanctions).”
Vaez said in the end the path to a diplomatic solution would depend on Washington’s next moves and whether it would at least be willing to relax its attempts to prevent sales of Iranian oil, a vital source of income for the country.
“The remaining parties to the deal have proved incapable of providing Iran with any kind of breathing space,” Vaez said.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that Tehran is willing to return to the negotiating table if the United States first drops sanctions.