The head of the White Helmets civil defense agency said his organization has been subject to false charges and allegations because of its role as a witness to ongoing massacres in war-torn Syria.
In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Raed Salah said the White Helmets welcomes financial support from any country or organization provided that the funds were not politically-driven.
“By the end of 2012, some regions in Syria began to fall out of the regime control. As regime forces began to shell civilian settlements and carry out attacks, there was a need for a group to save civilians from these attacks,” he said.
According to Salah, the name of the civil defense agency was derived from the helmets worn by its members during rescue operations.
He said members of the White Helmets have reached 4,300 volunteers by the end of 2017. Nevertheless, they can only operate in certain areas where they are allowed to.
“As the regime designates us as a terror group, we cannot operate in areas under its control. We have been repeatedly threatened [by the regime],” he said.
“Also, we cannot operate in YPG/PKK-held areas,” he said, adding that White Helmets volunteers were arrested by YPG/PKK in 2015.
“They seized our ambulances and rescue equipment in Afrin,” he said. “Due to similar reasons, we cannot operate in Daesh-held areas.”
Salah said the civil defense agency can only operate in opposition-held areas in northern Syria, the Euphrates Shield zones and Oil Branch Operation zones.
“In addition to rescue operations, the White Helmets also intervene to extinguish fires, solve water and electricity problems and help with rubble cleaning,” he said.
Established in 2013, the White Helmets was nominated for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize.
In 2013, the civil defense agency members were trained by Turkey’s Search and Rescue Association, AKUT.
Salah said the White Helmets accepts financial support from any country or organization on the condition that the funds were not politically-driven.
“We welcome help and support from everyone who wants to back the Syrian people,” he said. “We don’t have any objection. Our only condition is no political or military agenda is imposed on us.”
Salah said the organization is supported by countries as Qatar, UK, US, the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany.
“We will ink an agreement with France,” he said. “The Turkish Red Crescent and IHH (Humanitarian Relief Foundation) are also supporting us.”
The White Helmets chief said the civil defense agency has never got any financial support from Israel.
“We would never accept financial support from Israel as we view it as a country of occupation,” he said, going on to deny that his volunteers had been evacuated from western Syria through Israel amid a military operation by regime forces.
The evacuation of our volunteers was not through Israel. The volunteers went to the occupied Golan Heights before moving to Jordan. From there, they left to other countries, he said.
Salah dismissed claims that the White Helmets was carrying out chemical attacks in Syria and heaping the blame on the Syrian regime.
“The party that is conducting chlorine gas and chemical attacks in Syria is obvious,” he said.
“Who has got chlorine gas barrels? The regime does. Who uses Sarin gas? The regime does,” he said. “The Syrian regime is the only one that has Sarin gas. The only party capable of using and carrying such attacks is the regime.”
Salah said such accusations were levelled against his group because the White Helmets was a first witness to ongoing massacres and human rights violations in the war-torn country.
“Russia does its best to whitewash the regime,” he said.
Salah said his volunteers were repeatedly targeted by regime forces while rescuing civilians.
“We have been targeted by both regime and Russian warplanes for many times,” he said.
He said some of the White Helmets centers had been hit by regime forces and allies for several times.
“A total of 255 volunteers have been killed so far,” he said.
Salah said a survey conducted last year showed that 85 percent of respondents said that they would seek help from the White Helmets if needed.
“This is a great success for us,” he said. “Our greatest success, however, is that we have saved 115,000 civilian lives.”
“We have also planted the seeds of hope into the hearts and minds of a nation that was about to lose its hope,” he said.
Syria has been locked in a devastating civil war since March 2011, when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.
Amid continued concerns that the White Helmets are currently staging a “false flag” chemical weapons attack in Syria’s Idlib, the Netherlands has decided to halt funding for the controversial group due to the “inadequate supervision” of White Helmets members on-the-ground and the group’s “likely” links to Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist organizations. Notably, the decision marks the first time that a government funding the White Helmets has openly criticized or raised concerns about the group. The group has received funding from several foreign governments since its founding, including the U.S., U.K., Dutch, Japanese, German and Qatari governments.
The Russian military has obtained “irrefutable” data that terrorist groups, including Jabhat an-Nusra, and the infamous White Helmets met in Idlib province on Sunday, according to the ministry’s spokesperson Igor Konashenkov. The militants plotted the final scenarios for the chemical attacks that the Syrian army are expected to make in the cities of Jisr ash-Shugur, Serakab, Taftanaz and Sarmin, the Russian military revealed.
Pink Floyd ex-frontman Roger Waters took aim at the controversial White Helmets group, and spoke about censorship on Facebook and other social media platforms during an interview with RT’s Sophie Shevardnadze.
A large supply of chemicals has been delivered to the militants in Syria’s Idlib with the assistance of the White Helmets aid group in order to stage a provocation and blame the Syrian government, Russia’s Defense Ministry said.
Since the overnight Saturday and into early Sunday Israeli military operation which successfully evacuated White Helmets members and their families from southwest Syria at the request of the US and European governments, new details and footage have emerged.
Overnight Saturday Israel evacuated 800 White Helmets members and their families from southern Syria in an operation that took them briefly into Israeli territory and then on to Jordan, where they are expected to be resettled in Britain, Canada, and Germany, according to officials in Amman.
Jordan has allowed the UN to organize the passage of some 800 members of the White Helmets civil defence agency for humanitarian reasons, the Jordanian Foreign Ministry said. According to a Saturday statement, ministry spokesman Mohamed al-Kayed said Amman responded to a request to allow the 800 Syrians into the country temporarily to be resettled later in the West.
Following the recent success of the Syrian government’s campaign to rid southern Syria of both radical jihadist and foreign influence, the same Western governments that have long funded the White Helmets are seeking to evacuate their assets and resettle them abroad. According to a report recently published in CBS News, several Western countries that have provided funding for the group – such as the Netherlands, the U.K., Germany and France – are now “scrambling” to evacuate the estimated 1,000 White Helmets and their families, claiming that they are “in danger of assassination” and “now in need of rescuing themselves.”
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