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Who are the Syrian “White Helmets” and why are there so many disputes around them?

After the alleged chemical attack in the city of the Duma, a wave of accusations against the rescuers from the White Helmets organization again arose in the Syrian, Russian and Iranian state press:

Did White helpmets allegedly falsify evidence against Assad’s troops, do they work for the West and terrorists?

What is known about this organization?

“White Helmets” (sometimes translated as “White Helmets”) were among several organizations that relayed reports of two cases of alleged use of poisonous substances on April 7 in the city of Dumas.

Syria and Russia said that evidence of a chemical attack, including photos and videos of poisoned children, was falsified.

During the years of the civil war in Syria, hundreds of thousands of publications (most often quoting each other) were published in the media controlled by Bashar Assad, as well as in Russia, Iran and other countries, in which the “White Helmets” were accused of falsifying evidence of bombings of civilians by aviation of Assad and Russia, as well as chemical attacks, and in many cases the facts were confirmed by other observers and international organizations.

The White Helmets themselves deny these accusations, as well as accusations of working for foreigners or terrorists inside Syria.

“[Bashar Assad and Russia] deny each of the massacres that they committed in Syria, they are trying to distort the reality and truth that we are communicating, they are trying to kill us on the ground, they are trying to slander us in the press by trolling and propaganda. that we react to all such cases and try to show the world what really happened, “Ammar al-Salmo, a member of the White Helmets leadership, told BBC radio on Monday.

Indeed, the “White Helmets” can be reproached for showing the world only the consequences of aviudars and shelling by the forces of Assad and his allies. This is because this organization works on territories beyond Assad’s control – this is the original meaning of its existence.

Teams of volunteer rescuers appeared in Syria, in territories under the control of the insurgents, in 2012. By this time, the state rescue services in these territories had ceased to function, and the war from the guerilla war had rapidly evolved into full-scale war, with artillery and aviation – and, accordingly, with great destruction and fires.

In 2012-2013, the European governments, Turkey, Japan, the United States and many non-governmental organizations, including Mayday Rescue (the most understandable translation is probably “SOS-Salvation” ), founded by a former British officer, James Le Mesurier.

In 2014, under the leadership of Le Mesurier, the rescue teams joined the national organization “Syrian Civil Defense” (CDF). “White Helmets” is their unofficial name.

Now in the CDF, according to her own data, there are about 3000 people.

The fact that the British military has become the creator of the White Helmets, and they are funded, according to their official data, by the governments of Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany, as well as the USAID, many prosecutors seem to be sufficient grounds to accuse rescuers of working for the West .

But for an unbiased observer, the fact of financing rescuers does not in itself mean that they are committed to fulfilling the political orders of the financier or that funding it generally requires.

It is another matter that, as far as one can understand, the staff of the White Helmets is overwhelmingly consist of Syrians from those territories and from those groups of the population who opposed Assad, and their attitude to the Syrian president is quite obvious.

But James Le Mesurier in an interview with the BBC in 2014, assured that this does not affect their work.

“These teams are neutral, impartial, they save anyone who needs it, and there were many examples […] There were many instances when they rescued regime soldiers from the rubble of collapsed buildings, risking their lives at the same time. The team crawled under the sniper fire to pick up the body of the Al-Assad soldier who remained in the neutral zone, and when they pulled him out, found his mother’s phone number with him, called her and said: we found your son’s body, we’ll bury him as expected, “- then Le Mesurier.

Working in the territories controlled by various armed groups, rescuers, naturally, should maintain relations with them. On this basis, “White Helmets” are accused of having links with terrorists. They deny these accusations themselves.

“Of course not,” Ammar al-Salmo said in an interview with the BBC radio. “The Assad regime then accuses us of being agents of Israel, agents of Britain or the CIA, that we are affiliated with the” Al-Qaeda. “These conflicting accusations confirm that the Assad regime simply hates us – because we show what he is doing in Syria.

And there is a very different matter – evidence of bombing or chemical attacks.

In a civil war, it is often impossible to obtain information from independent sources – for example, to find out whether the bombs killed “mostly children, women and the elderly” or armed fighters. At the same time, all parties to the conflict very often simply lie.

But the “White Helmets” are accused, among other things, of falsifying photo and video evidence. In many cases, they and their defenders proved the falsity of such accusations.

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In 2016, for example, the Assad media, as well as the Iranian and Russian media, blamed the White Helmets for publishing photos from different places taken at different times, but supposedly with the same little girl named Aya is in the hands of the rescuer. The essence of the charges was that the “White Helmets” distribute staged photos to deceive the world, convincing him that from the air strikes of the forces of Assad and Russians, children suffer.

This accusation, in particular, was repeated at a press conference by a supporter of Bashar Assad, a Canadian activist and blogger on the site of the Russian TV channel RT Eva Bartlett, and this press conference was replicated by the RT channel itself.

The British private television channel Channel 4 conducted a verification of the facts on this matter and showed that, firstly, the girls in all three photographs are absolutely different, just dressed in a similar color; Secondly, these photos were published not by the White Helmets, but by three different sources, including Reuters’ correspondent; third, the facts of air strikes and loss of life in all cases were confirmed by other sources and photo and video testimonies.

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