OTTAWA—Canada has offered to accept dozens of “White Helmets” and their families from Syria following a dramatic rescue over the weekend that was orchestrated by the Israeli military and personally encouraged by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Named for their easily-recognizable head gear, the all-volunteer “White Helmets” have been lauded and supported by Canada and other western nations for their role as first responders and humanitarian workers who have saved hundreds of lives during Syria's brutal civil war.
But with the Syrian government having regained control of much of the country, and moving to wrest back the last of several rebel-held areas in recent weeks, there had been concerns that dozens of “White Helmets” stranded on the border with Jordan would become targets for Syrian troops.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed yesterday 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 them during the recent NATO summit in Brussels.
“Several days ago, U.S. President Trump contacted me, as did Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau and others, and requested that we assist in evacuating hundreds of 'White Helmets' from Syria,” Netanyahu said in Hebrew during an online address.
“These are people who have saved lives and whose lives were in danger,” he noted.
“Therefore I approved their passage through Israel to additional countries as an important humanitarian gesture.”
The military operation saw the Israeli military slip hundreds of people from Syria to Jordan, though the exact numbers still were being determined.
Jordanian officials initially said 800 Syrians were rescued, although that number later was revised down to around 425.
Writing on Twitter in Arabic, Jordanian Foreign minister Ayman Safadi said the Syrians were allowed into the country following written commitments that Germany, Britain, and Canada would resettle them following the operation.
Canada has offered to host up to 50 “White Helmets” and their families, a senior official confirmed to The Canadian Press on condition of anonymity.
With the addition of family members, that could bring the total to around 250 Syrians, although the official said the actual number could be lower.
Exactly when the “White Helmets” will arrive is unclear; the rescued Syrians are expected to remain in a UN refugee camp for at least three months to allow for processing.
Canada has been among several countries that have provided moral and financial support to the “White Helmets,” which officially are known as Syria Civil Defence, including $7.5 million over the past two years to help recruit and train women.
But the Syrian government and its Russian backers have denounced the group as little more than a tool for Western propaganda, and accused its members of being in league with Islamist insurgents.