Assad troops arresting former White Helmets 'every day', betraying ceasefire assurances

Assad troops arresting former White Helmets 'every day', betraying ceasefire assurances
Civilians and humanitarian workers who signed 'ceasefire' deals with the Syrian regime that assured their safety are now being arrested on a daily basis, according to local sources.
3 min read
14 September, 2018
As humanitarian workers and civilians, the White Helmets were guaranteed safety on surrender [Getty]

Syrian regime intellience forces are arresting civilians and former humanitarian workers, including White Helmets volunteers, on a daily basis, despite reaching Russian-brokered 'ceasefire' settlements that guaranteed their safety when they surrendered to the regime.

Local sources told The New Arab that 11 former volunteers for the White Helmets, also known as the Syrian Civil Defence, were arrested on Tuesday in al-Rastan and its neighbouring villages in Homs, central Syria.

Civilians and humanitarian workers of al-Rastan signed a settlement with the Syrian regime, brokered by the Russians, when the opposition-held town in northern Homs fell to Assad and his allies in May this year.

The agreement stipulated that they would not be arrested or conscripted into military service.

The reports of the arrests were backed up by the Britain-based monitor, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

Those arrested include a former White Helmets official in charge of maintaining the group's vehicles, and a former nurse from the Rastan field hospital, the local sources said.

They added that a convoy of heavily armed regime vehicles stormed the homes of the former volunteers, covering their heads in black sacks as they were arrested.

Despite the assurances made in the so-called ceasefire deals, regime security forces are arresting people in former opposition-held regions on a daily basis, according to the sources.

SOHR confirmed that over the past 72 hours, more than 75 other former White Helmets volunteers and medical practitioners have been arrested in the areas of Douma, Saqba, Hamouriyyah, Mesraba, Zamalka, Ein Tarma, Hazza and other areas in eastern Ghouta.

The White Helmets, a volunteer organisation chiefly running emergency medical care and search-and-rescue operations in opposition-held areas of Syria, have been subject to a sweeping disinformation campaign by allies of the regime in order to discredit them as terrorists and thereby legitimise them as targets.

Alistair Burt, the UK Minister for the Middle East said on Thursday: "The massive disinformation campaign by the Russian state, including absurd insinuations about the UK and the White Helmets, are a desperate attempt to deflect attention from the appalling crimes of the Assad regime, including its documented and repeated use of chemical weapons."

"We are clear that this Russian disinformation campaign is designed to distort, distract and confuse the facts. It is a pattern that is becoming sadly familiar: MH17, Crimea, Salisbury and now Syria," he added.

The reports of the arrests raise questions over the similar guarantees of safety made to Syrian refugees if they return to their homeland from neighbouring countries such as Lebanon and Jordan.

Russia is pushing forward an initiative to return some 1.7 million refugees to Syria as part of its vocal campaign for the reconstruction of the country under Assad's leadership.

Follow Florence Dixon on Twitter @flo_dix