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.”


British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

Updated 22 January 2020

British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

  • Palestinian envoy welcomes cross-party call ahead of visit by Prince Charles

LONDON: A group of British MPs has called for the UK to recognize the state of Palestine ahead of a visit by Prince Charles to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a letter to The Times, the MPs, along with figures from think tanks and pressure groups, said the move was long overdue and would help fulfill Britain’s “promise of equal rights for peoples in two states.” 

The call comes as the heir to the British throne travels on Thursday to Israel and the occupied West Bank. 

During the visit, he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. 

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

The letter said since 2014, no meaningful progress has been made in the peace process, and Israel’s actions are pushing a two-state solution beyond reach.

“Illegal Israeli settlements, described by the Foreign Office as undermining peace efforts, are expanding,” the letter said.

Among the signatories are Emily Thornberry, a candidate for the Labour Party leadership, and Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to the UK, welcomed the move but said full recognition from the British government should have happened many years ago.

“Recognition doesn’t contradict peacemaking and negotiations,” Zomlot told Arab News, referring to the main argument used by the UK against taking such a step. 

“It reinforces the vision (of a Palestinian state) and a negotiated two-state solution. It should happen now because of the threat of annexation (of Palestinian territory) and the killing of the two-state solution.”

FASTFACT

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

Alistair Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat MP who signed the letter, told Arab News that the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toward Palestine “makes the achievement of a two-state solution more and more remote with every week that passes.”

He said: “The UK has historic and political obligations toward Israelis and Palestinians. There’s now no longer any good reason not to recognize the state of Palestine.”

A spokesman for Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who also signed the letter, told Arab News: “The fact that this has cross-party support shows the growing desire across Parliament for the recognition of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.”

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the international community needs to finally stand up for the solution that it has had on the table for decades.

Doyle, an Arab News columnist, said the letter is an “indication that many people in British politics think we should be doing this, we should be standing up for the Palestinian right to self-determination, the legal rights, at a time when the state of Israel is doing everything to stop this, to take more land from the Palestinians.”

The letter was timed to coincide with a meeting of European foreign ministers on Monday, who discussed the Middle East peace process.

The Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the West Bank, has been increasing calls for European countries to recognize the state of Palestine as the US has shifted to a more pro-Israel stance, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Europe could strengthen its role in the peace process if it recognized Palestine.

“European recognition of this state is not only a European responsibility but a concrete way to move towards a just and lasting peace,” he said.

Only nine out of the 28 EU countries have so far recognized Palestine as a state, compared to 138 out of the 193 UN member states.

In 2011, the UK’s then-Foreign Minister William Hague said the British government “reserves the right” to recognize Palestine “at a time of our own choosing, and when it can best serve the cause of peace.”

In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of “nonmember observer state.”