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Israel evacuates 800 White Helmets to Jordan in face of Syria advance

Israel evacuates 800 White Helmets to Jordan in face of Syria advance

800 White Helmet rescue workers and their families were evacuated from southern Syria through the Golan Heights and into Jordan.

Officially known as the Syrian Civil Defence but known by their distinctive white helmets, members of the volunteer search-and-rescue force are hailed heroes by many, although supporters of Syrian President Bashar al Assad have sought to portray them as terrorists.

Israel has evacuated 800 White Helmets rescuers and their families who are threatened by advancing Syrian regime forces for resettlement in Britain, Canada and Germany.

"Upon request of the US, Canada and European states Israel has completed a humanitarian effort to rescue members of a Syrian civil organization ("White Helmets") and families", Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon tweeted.

US officials had said they were finalizing plans to evacuate several hundred Syrian civil defense workers and their families from southwest Syria as Russian-backed government forces closed in on the Quneitra province.

Welcoming their evacuation, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeted: "Fantastic news that we - United Kingdom and friends - have secured evacuation of White Helmets and their families - thank you Israel and Jordan for acting so quickly on our request".

More than 20,000 civilians have fled bombardment on the IS-held corner on the border with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan in the past 24 hours, fleeing into regime-held areas, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.

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White Helmets head Raed Saleh said the evacuees had arrived in Jordan after being "surrounded in a unsafe region". Evacuation plans were accelerated after last week's North Atlantic Treaty Organisation summit in Brussels.

The offensive has restored Syrian government control over a swathe of the southwest, strategic territory at the borders with Jordan and Israel.

The White Helmets have rescued thousands of civilians trapped under the rubble or caught up in fighting in battered opposition-held zones along various fronts of Syria's seven-year conflict.

The Syrian and Russian air force have repeatedly targeted rescue workers, sometimes launching follow-up strikes as a team sifts the wreckage for civilians.

With its new advances, government forces are, for the first time since the civil war began in 2011, retaking this territory from the rebels and restoring their positions along the disengagement line in the Golan Heights. Jordan hosts at least 650,000 registered Syrian refugees, according to the United Nations, but Amman says a similar number of undocumented Syrians are also in the kingdom. This has left civilians stranded between the Israeli-held Golan Heights and Jordan.

The Israeli military said it will continue to aid those in need but won't allow a massive influx of refugees into the country.