Syria’s Heroic White Helmets Are Staging Protests After Seven Rescue Workers Were ‘Executed’ Last Week
It was an entirely new style of attack on civil defence volunteers.
Syria’s White Helmets rescue workers have staged protests after seven of their colleagues were shot dead over the weekend.
The volunteer group rescues victims from the rubble of buildings destroyed in airstrikes, in opposition-held areas of Syria, and claims to have saved more than 97,000 lives.
Nearly 200 civil defence volunteers have been killed in the Syrian conflict, according to The Guardian, mostly in attacks by Syrian government warplanes targeting rescuers who arrive at the scene of an airstrike.
But the “execution-style” killing of the workers in Sarmin, a town in Idlib province near the Turkish border, is an attack that they have never experienced before.
The victims in the latest attack were shot by unknown gunmen, at close range with pistols fitted with silencers, reported The Independent.
Members of the White Helmets group held vigils across Syria on Sunday in protest of the latest attack.
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They held signs saying “Save White Helmets” and “The men of civil defence are used to saving civilian lives, but found none to save theirs.”
The head of the White Helmets, Raed al-Saleh, told the assembled protesters: “Every one of you has a story with the wounded and you have given your blood to save others. I hold all those who claim leadership responsible. You must uncover the criminals who carried out this heinous crime.”
The UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson condemned the attacks, saying: “I am appalled by the targeted and heinous murders of heroic White Helmets volunteers who put their own safety at risk to save lives on all sides of the Syrian conflict.”
He added: “Their bravery and humanity is so inspiring and their deaths a huge loss for their families, Syria and the world.”
The White Helmets group gained an international reputation when they were nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize last year, while a film on the group’s work won the 2017 Oscar for Best Short Documentary.
All sides in the Syrian conflict have been accused of attacking aid and health workers, but the regime of Bashar al-Assad has reportedly been responsible for most abuses.
Attacks on health facilities in Syria have forced many to retreat underground, where medical staff can work in safer conditions. According to Physicians for Human Rights, there were 478 attacks on health facilities between March 2011 and June 2017 – including 432 by the Syrian government and its allies, and 20 by rebel groups.