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US-backed White Helmets evacuated from Syria; Assad winning ‘decisively’

The Syrian government of President Bashar Assad on Monday blasted Israel, the United States and other nations for evacuating hundreds of Syrian Civil Defense “White Helmets” rescue workers and their families from Assad’s advancing forces.

The rescue was organized by Israel, which has otherwise avoided direct intervention in the brutal civil war ravaging its neighbor. Assad’s forces recently overwhelmed rebel areas bordering Jordan and Golan Heights, Syrian territory occupied by Israel.

“It is pretty clear that Assad is winning the Syrian civil war – decisively,” said James Piazza, a Penn State professor and Middle East expert. “I think it is likely he will completely crush the rebels sooner rather than later.”

The White Helmets are a volunteer aid and rescue NGO supported and lauded by the West, credited for saving thousands of civilians from the onslaught of Syrian troops and their allies driving Western-backed rebel groups from what  were once rebel strongholds.

“Words are not enough to express the discontent which the Syrians feel towards these mean conspiracies and the limitless support provided by the Western states, Israel and Jordan to the White Helmets … and other terrorist organizations,” the Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Piazza said there is no evidence to support Syrian claims that the White Helmets organization has aided armed combatants or are a conduit for Islamic extremists.

Assad’s forces recently overwhelmed rebel areas bordering Jordan and Golan Heights, Syrian territory occupied by Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said President Donald Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and others requested Israel’s assistance in the evacuations of “people who have saved lives and whose lives were in danger.”

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt called the evacuations “fantastic news,” and the Trump administration said it “deeply appreciates” Israel’s role and Jordan’s “generosity.”

“We are glad that these ‎brave volunteers, who have saved thousands of lives, are now out of harm’s way,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert in a statement. “The White Helmets have consistently been targeted by the Assad regime.”

She said the evacuees, more than half of whom are children, were allowed entry into Jordan temporarily. Plans call for the evacuees to be placed in “permanent homes” in Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom, Nauert said.

The civil war in Syria has dragged on for more than seven years, resulting in hundreds of thousands of deaths and an unrelenting humanitarian crisis. A Syrian offensive that began last month has battered the few remaining rebel holdouts, and Assad continues to solidify gains and his power.

Netanyahu met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Jerusalem on Monday. Israeli media said the prime minister pressed for, among other things, keeping pro-Iranian forces in Syria at least 60 miles from the Israeli border.

Russia’s support has been key to Assad’s survival and the all but certain defeat of the rebels. Piazza said Putin has made Syria the showpiece of its resurrection as a global superpower – and a player in the Middle East.

“It is hard to remember that at one time, in 2011, many policymakers and commentators regarded Assad as a dead man walking,” Piazza said. “Assad’s regime is in very good shape in terms of taking control over the remainder of the country.”

Source: USA Today

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