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.”

Egyptians largely follow law on wearing masks, some worry about cost

Updated 01 June 2020

Egyptians largely follow law on wearing masks, some worry about cost

CAIRO: Most Egyptians appear to be following a new law that says they must wear face masks in public, the latest move by the authorities to slow the spread of the coronavirus as reported cases rise.
The law, which came into effect on Saturday, adds to measures including closing airports to international travel, shutting restaurants and suspending school classes.
Those who fail to comply with the rules on masks risk a fine of around $252.
“This was supposed to happen from the very beginning, so that (people) learn discipline and learn the rules. We are a country that needs discipline,” Isis said, standing near a shop in central Cairo and wearing a mask.
Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, has registered nearly 25,000 cases of the coronavirus and reported 959 deaths.
Infections rose sharply during the last week marking the end of the Muslim month of Ramadan, when families typically gather for the festivities. A total of 1,536 cases were confirmed on Sunday, double the number on the same day a week ago.
Egypt’s population is overwhelmingly young, but cities are crowded, making it more difficult for people to socially distance.
Reuters witnesses said that police in Cairo were not allowing people inside some banks and metro stations on Sunday and Monday if they were not wearing masks.
“Today people are following the rules. It is good that people are becoming more aware and abiding by this decision ... People today are protecting themselves, protecting their homes, protecting their families,” Adel Othman said through his mask, as he stood in line to enter a bank.
Some people worried that the new rules would add to the financial burden on a population where millions live in poverty.
“I need to spend 30 Egyptian pounds ($1.89) a day to buy masks for my family of six which adds up to 900 pounds a month. My entire salary is 2,200 pounds. How?” said Essam Saeed, an employee at the education directorate in Beni Suef, south of Cairo.
The government said in May that it was going to offer cloth face masks at 5 Egyptian pounds ($0.31) a piece that were viable for use for one month.
Egypt is looking to produce 30 million of the cloth masks a month to meet local demand and will in the coming days produce 8 million as part of an initial trial, the trade minister said in a statement on Sunday. ($1 = 15.8800 Egyptian pounds)