Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said in a statement on Sunday that Israel had facilitated the exit from Syria 0f relief workers, known as “white helmets.”
The group, known officially as Syria Civil Defence, has been widely hailed in the West and credited with saving thousands of people in rebel-held areas during years of bombing attacks by Damascus and its allies.
Its members, known for their white helmets, say they are neutral. But Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his backers have dismissed them as Western-sponsored propaganda tools and proxies of Islamist-led insurgents. There was no immediate response from Damascus on Sunday.
A Jordanian government source said 422 people were brought from Syria, over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights frontier and into Jordan, down from a figure of 800 announced earlier by the foreign ministry in Amman.
The evacuees will be kept in a “closed” location in Jordan and resettled in Britain, Germany and Canada within three months, the source added.
A second non-Jordanian source familiar with the agreement said the original plan had been to evacuate 800 people, but only 422 made it out as operations were hampered by government checkpoints and the expansion of Islamic State in the area.
Syria and its Russian allies have launched an offensive on rebels in the sensitive southwestern border zone.
The relief workers could often be seen digging through the rubble of buildings bombed by Russia looking for survivors. They also saved countless lives during Syrian poison gas attacks.
Israeli assistance came at the request of Donald Trump and other western leaders:
Netanyahu said Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and others had spoken to him recently asking for help in extracting the White Helmets. “The lives of these people, who have saved lives, were now in danger. I therefore authorized their transfer via Israel to other countries as an important humanitarian gesture,” Netanyahu said.
Trump did not mention the operation during a series of tweets on Sunday.
Britain hailed the evacuation, saying it and other allies had requested it.
“Fantastic news that we – UK and friends – have secured evacuation of White Helmets and their families – thank you Israel and Jordan for acting so quickly on our request,” tweeted British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
German weekly magazine Bild, which broke news of the evacuation and published footage of buses used to transport the Syrians across Golan, said 50 of them would be granted asylum by Berlin.
“Humanity dictates that many of these brave first-aiders should now find protection and refuge, some of them in Germany,” it quoted German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas as saying.
It speaks to the utter brutality of the Syrian civil war that the lives of these heroes and their families were in danger. They also became witnesses to the numerous war crimes committed by Syrian President Bashar Assad and the Russian military as both deliberately targeted civilian structures in bombing raids.