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Israel evacuates hundreds of Syria's White Helmets to Jordan

Israel evacuates hundreds of Syria's White Helmets to Jordan

Jordan's Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said 422 White Helmets volunteers were evacuated, instead of the initial 800 cleared for the operation.

'The civilians were subsequently transferred to a neighbouring country, ' it said without elaborating.

Officially called the Syrian Civil Defense but known by their distinctive white helmets, the group has operated a rescue service in rebel-held parts of Syria.

The White Helmets were taken across the border and then ferried on buses across the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and on into Jordan.

Nearly 29 villages, hamlets and hilltops returned to the government control after accepting the terms of surrender by the rebel groups operating along the borders with the Occupied Golan Heights.

Jordan confirmed the Syrian citizens entered its territory to be resettled in Western countries in weeks.

The first convoy of 55 buses, carrying some 2,800 people, arrived in northern Syria's opposition-held Idlib province on Saturday after rebels in Quneitra agreed to hand over medium to heavy weaponry and surrender the strategic area.

White Helmets head Raed Saleh said the evacuated workers had arrived in Jordan after being "surrounded in a risky region".

The request came as the White Helmets volunteers and their families were threatened by advancing forces of the Syrian government in the south of the war-ravaged country.

More than 20,000 civilians have fled bombardment on the IS-held corner on the border with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan in the past 24 hours, fleeing into regime-held areas, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.

"White Helmets have been the target of attacks and, due to their high profile, we judged that, in these particular circumstances, the volunteers required immediate protection".

Netanyahu said Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and others had spoken to him recently asking for help in extracting the White Helmets.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed Sunday that Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump were among those who asked Israel to rescue the White Helmets in recent days, after leaders first talked about helping the White Helmets during the recent North Atlantic Treaty Organisation summit in Brussels.

Britain's Foreign Office said it had helped facilitate the overnight evacuations.

A spokeswoman for the German interior ministry said Berlin would take in eight White Helmets plus their families.

The Syrian government and Russian Federation have labelled the White Helmets as foreign "agents" and have accused them of staging scenes of alleged chemical weapons attacks.

Tens of thousands of people have been sheltering at the frontier since the Russian and Syrian aerial bombing campaign that the opposition called a scorched earth policy began a month ago.

"The transfer of the displaced Syrians through Israel is an exceptional humanitarian gesture".

"These are people who save lives and now find themselves in deadly danger, therefore I approved bringing them through Israel to another country as an important humanitarian step". In the past two years, the Israeli military says it has delivered more than 1,500 tons of food, 250 tons of clothing and almost a million liters of fuel.

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