BEIRUT – The call came Saturday night. In the war zone raging in south-west Syria, with the enemy forces on the move, volunteers from the 98 White Helmets brought their spouses, children and a personal bag each. A total of 421 people gathered at two assembly points where they had to take the step towards freedom.
At the time of their crossing, they were 422. A woman went into labor and gave birth by an emergency cesarean section. His son, Nairouz, was born in an open field in the dark of the night just before the border with the Golan Heights occupied by Israel.
It was just a moment of drama in a complicated international rescue operation to extract the Syrian volunteer rescuers who work in opposition areas through the bitter enemy from their country, Israel, by bus to a haven of peace in Jordan
A bitter journey through a conflict going on until crossing one of the world's most hermetic borders. . Until the last minute, people on the ground were not sure whether the operation was going to unfold. Until the last minute, people on the ground were not sure whether the operation would unfold.
Another of nearly 400 people was also to be removed. Most did not arrive in time at the assembly points, unable to quickly cross the roads by advancing Syrian forces from one side and developing the Islamic State militants from the other.
In all, it took about six hours to evacuate, according to a person close to the operation who agreed to discuss details under condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the problem.
The operation was designed by Britain, Germany and Canada, supported by Israel, Jordan, the United States and the UN It took a level of 39, agreement and unprecedented coordination – what international actors have rarely demonstrated during eight years of war in Syria between the world powers against each other.
The rescue of besieged White Helmets
It raises questions about the fate of 3,000 other first responders of the group that still operates in northern Syria, living with more than one million others displaced civilians in northern Syria. The Syrian government has also denounced the evacuation as a "criminal process" that "smuggled terrorists" to which it blamed for having undermined the country's security for years. An official of the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated his government's accusations that white helmets had organized and executed chemical attacks to blame them in Damascus.
The White Helmets Group is a volunteer organization that since 2013 has rescued survivors. war dead in areas held by the opposition, either to dig them up in the rubble of bombed buildings or to shoot the victims of chemical attacks on the site. He has been supported by the West since its inception and his work earned him a Nobel Prize nomination. It also earned them hatred for the government because its volunteers helped document the atrocities committed by government forces and their allies – including chemical attacks.
In five years, more than 3,000 volunteers have saved more than 115,000 lives. The cost for the group was high, and one in four volunteers was injured or killed.
"It was a" Hail Mary "operation, said the person who knew the evacuation. "The only safe place was their evacuation" in Jordan
The plan was conceived in Europe and Canada about two weeks ago
The Syrian government's offensive in south-west Syria, supported by Russia, was held in mid-June. . Although he condemned the attack, Washington, which had supported armed groups in the region and sponsored White Helmets by Jordan, said it would not help stop the advances.
In early July, government forces began negotiating groups and civilians in villages and towns that were quickly collapsing under assault. Negotiations have allowed those who refuse to live under government control – armed fighters, civilians or militants – to evacuate to the north.
With the exception of White Helmets, said the person close to the planning. According to sources, the White Helmets were a "red line" that should be "eradicated", according to the source.
This threat was particularly acute, he said, as nearly a dozen cases were documented during previous evacuations. White Helmets volunteers being specifically targeted, removed from buses, tortured and filmed by making false confessions about being paid agents. They were even filmed with weapons to support the government's narrative that they are working closely with the armed groups.
"It was a pattern of behavior," he said. and Canada before the NATO summit on July 9th. At the summit, there were leaders meetings on the issue. Evacuating them quickly across Jordan quickly became impossible as government forces progressed, taking over a vital rebel border post and deploying rapidly along the border. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to allow them to cross Israel after a call from US President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Finding where the volunteers were on the rapidly changing battlefield was a challenge. Conscious of not raising expectations, the planners only asked the volunteers if they would accept an opportunity to evacuate through Israel.
Some have declined, the source said, fearing they would not have guarantees where they would end up. The leadership of the White Helmets has been unanimous to accept, despite the likelihood that the government will point to the Israeli way in the propaganda against them.
"The political ramification should be secondary to saving what needs to be saved," the source said.
There was an unexpected rebound: the progress of affiliates of the Islamic State group. As rebel forces retreated to many villages between Daraa and Quneitra provinces, it was the IS affiliate – not the government forces – that moved in.
This further changed the landscape, blocking some evacuation routes to evacuation points. A civil defense volunteer said before Saturday night that several of his colleagues were locked up in areas seized by the government and activists.
"In our mind, there was no guarantee that this evacuation would happen until it happened" says:
The little window was closing quickly. On the night of July 21, the call arrived
The evacuees gathered at two places at the north end of the border.
There was still a problem
. the call was issued. "We were worried that she was not doing it," the source said.
An emergency caesarean section was performed on the Syrian side in a field near the border. "In a few hours, she was evacuated on the other side with a healthy little boy" – Nairouz
The evacuees crossed on foot and were greeted on the other side by Israeli soldiers who checked their identities. "The rescuers have been rescued," said the source.
Germany, Canada and Britain said that they would resettle White Helmets and their families within three months. The United States and Jordan will not take any.
Planners are always in contact with volunteers who do not notice them, advising them on what to do and where to be safe.
It is not known if similar operation can be reproduced. As for the hundred or so other volunteers in northern Syria, the source said the geography and landscape are different, with Turkish forces present in the region and many more options than the south. west with closed borders on all sides. At night, the White Helmets thanked "all the governments that contributed" to the evacuation and asked the international community – if it does not stop the Syrian offensives – to "do more to help the remaining hundreds of thousands in southern Syria. It is unlikely that international actors will come together to do it again "
" A lot of factors and partners had to interact properly, "said German Foreign Ministry spokesman Chrisofer Burger. "The factors that allowed in this case to help people facing acute threat, a very specific group, can not be repro to the will. All rights reserved This document can not be published, distributed, rewritten or redistributed.