Assad Haunts the “White Helmets,” What Is It that He Wants?

A member of the “White Helmets” rescuing a child from the city of Duma, rural Damascus (EPA)

A member of the “White Helmets” rescuing a child from the city of Duma, rural Damascus (EPA)


The Syrian regime and its head Bashar al-Assad’s attack of the Syrian Civil Defense (White Helmets) has taken another dimension, that in its core is more of a threat with assassination than a serious political discourse.

In an interview with a Russian media outlet on July 26, President Bashar al-Assad placed the members of the civil defense in front of two choices; reconciliation or assassination, describing them as a cover for “al-Nusra Fronts’ terrorists.”

In his statements, he pointed out that many of the “White Helmets” are armed and those who have left the country are probably “Front” leaders.

“The fate of the white Helmets is similar to that every terrorist face,” he stressed.


Who Are the “White Helmets”?

The Syrian Civil Defense Organization was established early in 2013, as a response to the regime’s escalating hostilities and usage of aerial shelling. The organization is formulated by a number of groups that rapidly gave themselves a structure based on volunteering centers, the first of which appeared in the city of Aleppo, Duma, in rural Damascus, and the city of al-Bab, in rural Aleppo.

The individual centers soon connected at the level of the governorate and began a process of communication in support of the local communities.

The number of the centers’ volunteers reached over 3470, spread throughout Syria; they managed to save thousands of civilians, alongside the awareness-based activities they launched and the services they offered at the level of the areas where the organization functioned.

The members of the “White Helmets” nailed an unprecedented fame for their action and were featured in a number of documentaries, including the Oscar wining White Helmets, as the best documentary for 2017.


Why Particularly Them that al-Assad Wants?

Sara Kayyali, a “Human Rights Watch” researcher in the Middle East and North Africa Division, defines the organization as “a humanitarian group working in the areas opposing to the government; the volunteers of which have been snatching the wounded people from beneath the rubble, burying the dead, putting down fires, while the Syrian-Russian coalition was targeting the civilians in Ghouta, Idlib, lately in Daraa and Qunitera with air raids. In addition to this, “they are witnesses to many of the hostilities of the area’s ongoing conflict.”

The Syrian regime and its Russian ally have stigmatized the organization as “terrorist,” an accusation which Kayyali described as “a true death penalty in Syria, especially since that Syrian terrorism-related laws are loose, enabling the government of detaining, torturing and executing those it considers as opposition without undertaking the demanded legal procedures.”

The Syrian regime has, since the break out of the revolution, utilized the distortion policy against the demonstrations and the demonstrating people and was keen to defame their image before it coerced them to hold weapons up in self-defense, Raid al-Saleh, director of the Civil Defense Organization, told Enab Baladi.

He added that the regime is following the same policy concerning the successful foundations that are offering services to civilians as a substitute for the regime’s establishments in the areas out of its control.

In a specific focus on the “White Helmets,” he pointed out that they have presented “a successful model of offering services and building establishments with the sole aim of building the human being, serving and reviving him or her,” believing that this has “irritated the Syrian regime.”

Al-Saleh believes that the direct reason for targeting the organization relates to “its working on all the humanitarian and legal files which condemn the regime and Russia of the violations and war crimes committed in Syria, including the usage of chemical and internationally banned weapons.”

What laid the issue more sensitive on the part of the Syrian regime and Russia is “the close cooperation between the White Helmets and the establishments concerned with the Syrian affair, investigating the usage of chemical weapons,” according to al-Saleh, these establishments include the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry that investigate violations in Syria.


The Evacuation of the Civil Defense Annoys the Syrian Regime

The Israeli and Jordanian governments on Sunday, July 22, have both agreed to allow the passage of more than 300 “White Helmets” members through their territories to resettle them in Canada and Germany, following Assad’s forces rapid progress in Southern Syria and its control over the majority of the areas that were held by the opposition.

On Sunday, July 22, Mohammad al-Kayed, spokesperson of the Jordanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that “The government has given UN the permission to organize the passage of about 800 Syrian citizens through Jordan to resettle them in western states.”

He added that UK, Canada and Germany “have presented a legally binding written undertaking to resettle them within a specific timeline because their life is threatened,” stressing that “the approval of the request was for pure humanitarian reasons.”

“The coordination of the Syrian citizens’ passage is done under the UN administration, without any obligations on the part of Jordan,” explaining that “these citizens will stay in a specific closed zone during the passage duration, which the three western states have committed that will be three months at most,” he said.

In a statement, the Israeli army considered the operation “an exceptional humanitarian step,” pointing out that the “White Helmets” are threatened to be assassinated by the Syrian regime.

The Syrian regime view Israel’s cooperation with several states to get members of the Civil Defense out of Syria “a criminal operation that reveals their support of terrorism,” as quoted by the official news agency “SANA”.

The agency has quoted an official source from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as saying that “Israel’s evacuation of the white Helmets has revealed before the whole world their connection to the western countries schemes, especially, U.S., UK, Canada and Germany and these countries’ generous funding of the terrorist activities of these organization in Syria.”

Assad’s forces have made a target out of the Civil Defense centers and medical points for the majority of the military campaigns they launched against the opposition-held areas and issued media reports that cast doubt on the integrity of these centers, which say that they incubate armed members, which they call “terrorists”.

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