Israel’s role was “indispensable” in saving the lives of the “White Helmet” rescue workers and their families, Canada’s Deputy Head of Mission Anthony Hinton told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
“From Canada’s perspective, Israel’s role was indispensable...
There was no way to save these Syrians without Israel’s coordination, collaboration and leadership,” Hinton, who was acting ambassador during the operation, said in a telephone interview.
“The IDF were the ones who made it happen on the ground,” he stressed.
While the original plan had been to bring the Syrian Civil Defense volunteers and their families totaling 800 people
directly to Jordan, in the end only 98 White Helmet rescue workers and 324 of their family members crossed into Israel from southern Syria on Saturday night and were then bussed into Jordan.
A report by Canada’s Globe and Mail on Tuesday said that one of the group’s leaders, Raed Salah, met with Canada’s Istanbul-based special envoy to Syria Robin Wettlaufer, and pleaded to mobilize a rescue effort to save them before it was too late.
What followed was an unprecedented operation that was in the works for two weeks after Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland approached her NATO counterparts on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels on July 11.
According to Hinton, both Israel and Jordan were approached right away and did not hesitate to play a role in the operation, which lasted several hours in the dark of night.
Nimrod Barkan, Israel’s ambassador to Ottawa, told the newspaper that when he was approached by Freeland “there was no disagreement.
We saw eye to eye with her.”
The IDF said that the “exceptional humanitarian gesture” came following the request of Canada, the United States and European countries and in accordance with the directives of the political echelon.
While Israel’s role in rescuing the Syrian White Helmets was applauded across the international community, an official statement released by the group on Monday failed to acknowledge Israel’s role in the rescue
“Israel’s actions speak loud and clear,” Hinton said. “Without their role in this operation, we would not have been able to save their lives.”
Reconciliation deals negotiated between the regime and rebels in southwestern Syria offered a truce to fighters and civilians, but no truce was being offered to White Helmet workers or anyone affiliated with them.
“The White Helmets have been heroic and very committed to saving lives of civilians during the civil war in Syria, and their owns lives are at risk right now. They are viewed by Russia and the regime as terrorists because they have documented the atrocities of the regime,” Hinton told the Post.
The White Helmets feared their fate if captured, saying in the statement that the “trapped volunteers would otherwise have faced detention or death at the hands of the Syrian regime and its ally Russia.”
“The targeting of the White Helmets by the Syrian regime has been systematic and well documented,” adding that 251 volunteers have been killed since the group’s formation.
The Syrian government criticized the evacuation as a “criminal operation” that “exposed the true nature of the organization known as the White Helmets.”
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