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General News    H2'ed 10/14/16

Political Defamation campaign targets Rescue Workers in Syria

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White Helmet rescuers believe that despite many violations, the Geneva Conventions are historically revolutionary and represent a sliver of civilization in the midst of the barbarity of war that in Syria is deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure. And that International Humanitarian Law must be respected because no one has the right to attack those escaping death. Or to attack their rescuers.

One White Helmet detractor wrote last week, "Yet behind the lofty rhetoric about solidarity and the images of heroic rescuers rushing in to save lives is an agenda that aligns closely with the forces from Riyadh to Washington clamoring for regime change." He also claimed without any probative evidence that White Helmets helped "terrorists" execute someone for an alleged crime.

Where is the proof that they were even White Helmet members? White Helmets have become a fad of sorts worn by people who have nothing to do with the rescuers. Again, the author needs to supply more substance than merely claiming that his internet posting is true when its well-known that there ar plenty of fake videos, photographs, and interviews these days being posted from many disparate anonymous sources. For political purposes.

This accusation that the White Helmets are Western/NATO political implants are a myth and another conspiracy theory. As with most conspiracy theories, it begins with facts and proceeds to make imaginary connections that make the whole seem greater than its parts.

White Helmet rescuers are much like Syria's population in general, including most of the 12 million refugees, who have come to abhor politics, are too exhausted to even listen to postulated political agendas and just want to help their families and fellow Syrians survive the war anyway they can. For some it means daily risking their lives frantically removing concrete rubble at bomb sites in a frantic search for bombing victims who may still be alive.

Syrian citizens who are not part of the more than a dozen humanitarian organizations rescuing citizens at bomb sites, also work tirelessly for war victims, helping them find shelter, water, food, clothing, medical attention, psychological counseling, and schooling while extending love to the wars victims. They are not involved in politics and some are supporters of the current regime and others presumably are not. But they eschew politics to focus on the subject for which they are risking their lives, saving their countrymen until the carnage ends. Most aid workers that this observer has been honored to spend time with, including a recent long day with SARCS volunteers exhibit, even during private conversations, little or no interest in politics as they do their grim daily work of picking through rubble left by airstrikes or shelling from whatever side the strikes arrive, and patching up survivors.

Among the groups of rescue workers across Syria there is no denial that some former fighters might be working with them to save the lives of victims of bombings. The volunteers acknowledge that they have some rebel former fighters among them. The UK Independent recently quoted a White Helmet rescuer as saying, "Yes, we have men who used to carry guns before, who have decided to put away the guns and take up a stretcher. We certainly don't hide that. In fact we are proud of the fact these men are not fighting any longer but are rescuing people."

The White Helmets have detractors who accuse them of being allied to rebel groups. The same charge is made against the Syrian Government organization, Syrian Red Crescent Society (SARCS) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). They are being funded, claim their accusers, by the US and UK as part of yet another secret Western plot. Their "proof" is that they claim Syrian rescue workers favor "safe zones" for their loved ones is not sincere but rather simply an attempt to strip the Assad regime of air power against extremists.

This charge like most unfounded accusations targeting rescue workers in Syria is ludicrous. Of course rescue workers, from government's ministries and the Syrian Red Crescent Society, and more than two dozen other humanitarian organizations, including many student groups, and hundreds of thousands of villagers across Syria who care about the plight of Syrian civilians want the intense bombardment and slaughter in Aleppo and all across Syria to stop. So do many Syrian government officials. And it's a fact that the White Helmets and many others rescuers believe that sometimes they are being deliberately targeted, with the "double-tap" bombings-- in which aircraft make a return visit to a place they have bombed once volunteers have arrived -- taking an even greater lethal toll. This widespread concern among medical centers and their staffs does not make the rescue workers "terrorists" as some recent critics imply. The term "terrorists", has itself become a much overused hyperbolic term that has largely lost its meaning. And labeling the White Helmets "terrorist lovers" doe not make them US or UK agents hell bent on regime change nor does it make them "rebels" as some poorly informed critics, most who presumably have not met any rescue workers in Syria, have been callously claiming on internet blogs.

Near the end of his lengthy attack on the White Helments, the author, using a subtitle: "An unmonitored money dump?" appears to think he has surely uncovered another conspiracy as he complains that "the White Helmets have received grants worth millions of dollars from the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office , Japan and USAID. To date, USAID has donated $23 million to the White Helmets, a substantial sum for a civil defense project in a war zone." Adding that "With such thin monitoring mechanisms in place to track how USAID money is spent in Syria, the risk of (White Helmet) misappropriation is considerable."

The author of some of the above conspiracy theories further attempts to smear Syrian emergency rescue workers by claiming that were founded in collaboration with USAID's Office of Transitional Initiatives. Not true. Once the White Helmets were up and running, some months later, USAID gave a grant to the White Helmets. It was a major one, one among thousands of others including recent donations from estate of the late British MP Jo Cox who helped the White Helmets get organized in 2014. On 10/13/2016 Speaking to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson announced "continued support the White Helmets and to support all types of humanitarian relief." Hundreds of humanitarian projects have received help from USAID, the UK, EU and others. Examples include the past few years more than 30 here in Lebanon, for which the government and people are grateful. Trying to smear the White Helmets based on their growing base of donors is simply more conspiracy theory stuff.

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Since 2013, Professor Franklin P. Lamb has traveled extensively throughout Syria. His primary focus has been to document, photograph, research and hopefully help preserve the vast and irreplaceable archaeological sites and artifacts in (more...)

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