The United Kingdom is ready to grant asylum to some of the 500 or so-called members of the Syrian volunteer civil defense force, known as White Helmets, who have been rescued from Syria and evacuated to Jordan, the Guardian has learned.
The White Helmets and their families were evacuated by Israeli forces on a dangerous mission Saturday night and crossed from three points at a time from northern Israel to Jordan. The Israelis had initially set the evacuation numbers to 800, later the number of James Le Mesurier, a former British MI5 officer who founded the group in Turkey in 2013, was downgraded.
He said on Sunday that 422 people were rescued, including 98 white helmets. More than 800 others did not manage to escape or decided not to.
The Israeli operation was undertaken at the request of a number of countries, including the United Kingdom, British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt and International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt in a joint statement. After the discussions at the recent NATO summit, evacuation plans were drawn up.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on Twitter: "A few days ago, President Trump contacted me, as did Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau and others, and we asked for us to help evacuate hundreds of white helmets from Syria who saved lives and whose lives were in danger, so I authorized their transfer through Israel to other countries as an important humanitarian gesture. "
The UK would not confirm reports from Jordan that Germany, Britain and Canada had made a legally binding commitment to accept refugees within three months, but pointed to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee Relocation (UNHCR) procedures It was expected to identify the white helmets that may come to the UK.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told the Bild newspaper that Germany would accept eight members of the White Helmets and their families.
This step is "an expression of my attitude to ensure humanity and order in migration policy," he said.
Canada will receive up to 50 volunteers from White Helmets and their families, up to 250 in total, said CBC, citing high-ranking officials.
Canada's Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said she demanded "a global leadership at the NATO summit last week to support and help these heroes". Other countries will also make offers.
Jordan had prevented refugees from Syria crossing the border, although many were heavily shelled by a joint Syrian-Russian air and ground offensive.
The news of the operation came from the Israeli military, which said it had "completed a humanitarian effort overnight to rescue members of a Syrian civil organization and their families … for an immediate threat to their lives."
It said it acted under Israeli government policy and at the request of the US and European countries.
On Saturday Israeli security forces closed the streets in the occupied Golan Heights on the Syrian border before the evacuation operation. The refugees were brought to Jordan via three routes.
Jordan has closed its borders and says its refugee camps are already full with more than 600,000 Palestinian and Syrian registered refugees and hundreds of thousands of unregistered refugees.
The Syrian government began an offensive in June, in which hundreds of displaced persons sought protection on the Israeli-Jordanian border.
The White Helmets have rescued civilians from the wreckage of air strikes in oppositional areas, but they have been attacked as Western agents by Russia, as their work has been funded by the British Department of State (FCO) and the White House. Their shots of the effects of air strikes have also shocked the Western world and exposed the often brutal impact of the Syrian air campaign. More than 250 volunteers were killed in attacks.
It has been suggested that members of the White Helmets will be attacked by the Syrian army as soon as they regain control of the southwestern part of Syria. The Russian Embassy in the Netherlands welcomed their departure and accused them of making false accusations of chemical weapons attacks.
The defense of the white helmets, Mohammed Al-Kayed, the Jordanian spokesman, said that the transfer of white helmets imposes no further obligations on the kingdom. He said the helpers would stay in a closed area and Britain, Germany and Canada had agreed to resettle them within three months.
The FCO said that the closed site is under the control of the UNHCR.
Justing the operation, Hunt and Mourdant said, "The white helmets have saved over 115,000 lives during the Syrian conflict at great risk to their own many White Helmets volunteers were killed in their work – they attempted to rescue civilians in bombed buildings or White helmets were the target of attacks and because of their high profile, we have found that volunteers need immediate protection in these special circumstances, so we have taken steps to protect as many volunteers and their families as possible to offer.
"We commend the bold and selfless work that volunteers from White Helmets have done to save Syrians on all sides of the conflict."
Since the establishment of White Helmets, when the conflict in Syria neared its third year, more than 200 of its volunteers have died and another 500 have been injured.
Some members have trained abroad, including in Turkey, to train their colleagues in search and rescue techniques.
The group receives financial support from a number of governments, including the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States, as well as individual donations for the purchase of equipment, such as: For example, the characteristic protective helmets.
The Syrian government and its ally Russia have called the White Helmets terrorists and accused them of being agents of foreign powers and working with radical insurgent groups. Both Moscow and Damascus have accused the White Helmets of conducting bailouts and chemical attacks to blame the government.
State media said on Sunday that the fact that Israel was formally at war with Syria facilitated the evacuation is evidence of the group's cooperation with a hostile power. Al-Ikhbariya, a Syrian state television broadcaster, called the evacuation a scandal, and the state news agency SANA said the group's "secret" had been uncovered and ended its "role as agent".
Syrian MP Khaled Abboud said that foreign powers "pull their agents off the battlefield" because of the Syrian military victories that suppressed aggression against the country.
The evacuation was the first such Israeli intervention in Syria's long-standing civil war, now in its eighth year. Although the Israeli military has sent thousands of Syrians who reached the Golan Heights border into the country for medical treatment, the Israeli military said its actions reflected no change in Israel's official non-intervention policy in the Syrian war, where all parties to the conflicts are considered hostile.
Their forces also occasionally carried out military strikes in Syria.
Israel seized 660 square miles (1,200 square kilometers) of the Golan Heights of Syria in 1967 during the Six-Day War and later annexed it, a move that was never internationally recognized.
The Syrian forces launched a Russian-backed offensive on June 19 to recapture the provinces of Deraa and Quneitra from the rebels. A month later, government institutions will return to most of the two provinces through a combination of deadly bombardment and capitulation brokered by Moscow.
The agreements stipulate that rebels give up their heavy weapons and those who disagree with a government takeover are brought with family members to opposition areas in the north of the country.
Jihadists are not a party to the agreements, and Russian planes bombed overnight an Islamic State raid in Deraa province, a British war observer said.
More than 20,000 civilians have fled to government-controlled areas to escape the bombing of the Isis-controlled area on the border with Jordan and the Golan occupied by Israel in the past 24 hours, according to the Syrian Human Rights Observatory.
ONgence France-Presse and Associated Press have contributed to this report