Netanyahu to discuss situation in Syria with Lavrov, Russian general staff chief

Netanyahu to discuss situation in Syria with Lavrov, Russian general staff chief

About 800 members of Syria's White Helmets civil defence group and their families have been evacuated via Israel to Jordan from southwest Syria, where a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive is under way.

The Israeli military issued a statement after the operation, saying it was done at the request of the U.S. and certain unnamed European countries.

The Israeli army said it had evacuated the rescue workers overnight "due to an immediate threat".

Israel's Haaretz daily said the evacuees also included orphans who had been injured in the Syrian fighting.

White Helmets head Raed Saleh said the evacuated workers had arrived in Jordan after being "surrounded in a unsafe region".

Israeli Foreign Ministry's official spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said on Sunday Israel had evacuated the activists of the White Helmets and members of their families from Syria at a request from the US, Canada and a number of Western countries.

Syrian Civil Defence volunteers, also known as the White Helmets, and Syrian Red Crescent members evacuate a wounded woman following a reported airstrike that targeted the Idlib bus station on January 18, 2017.

The White Helmets, a group of some 3,000 volunteers sponsored by other humanitarian groups in the United States and Canada, provides search and rescue services in response to bombing and evacuations of civilians from danger areas, and also provide food, psychological support and other assistance.

The Syrian military launched a major offensive last month to re-take rebel areas in Deraa and Quneitra provinces. The Syrian rebels agreed to a reconciliation with the regime Friday and their areas were mostly surrendered by Saturday night, leaving only a sliver of territory near the border and within the 1974 ceasefire lines.

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The military said its actions did not reflect a change to Israel's non-intervention policy in Syria's war, now in its eight year, where all the warring parties are considered hostile.

"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.

"We pay tribute to the fearless and selfless work that White Helmets volunteers have done to save Syrians on all sides of the conflict".

Some 422 volunteers and family members were taken to Jordan via the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The Jordanian government says they will soon be resettled in Canada, Germany or the UK.

"It is pretty clear that Assad is winning the Syrian civil war - decisively", said James Piazza, a Penn State professor and Middle East expert.

Meanwhile, Israel said it fired a pair of missiles to intercept two missiles fired from Syria in Israel's direction.

The group was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 for its humanitarian efforts.

The advance of the army towards the border still raised concern for Israel, which fears the presence of Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group, and Iran in the region that is known as "Triangle of Death".

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