Syria's White Helmets warn cuts in international aid to Idlib province 'will cost lives'

Syria's White Helmets warn cuts in international aid to Idlib province 'will cost lives'
The White Helmets stress aid cuts will hit civilians, after donors cut funding to certain areas in Syria following takeover by extremist groups
3 min read
21 January, 2019
The White Helmets have saved over 110,000 lives in Syria [Getty]
The White Helmets civil rescue team have warned of a medical crisis in Idlib province due to aid cuts after hardline militant group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) captured opposition territories in the country's northwest.

This comes two weeks after HTS took over Idlib province, and parts of Aleppo and Hama provinces, following a brief campaign against Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Ahrar al-Sham rebel groups.

HTS' former links to Al-Qaeda has been put under the spotlight, with fears that western governments might force aid agencies to cut funds to civil society groups in these territories.

The White Helmets told The New Arab last week they were closely following events on the ground in Idlib province following the HTS campaign.

Although The White Helmets will continue rescue operations, there are few places to treat the wounded.

Last week, international donors had pulled funding for health authorities in Idlib and other opposition areas following the HTS takeover, which health workers warn will lead to the suspension of work in more than 179 medical centres, hospitals and blood banks.

The White Helmets are a politically-neutral rescue team whose volunteer workers have saved over 110,000 lives in air raids and fighting since war broke out in 2011 following the regime's brutal crackdown on protests.

"The Syria Civil Defence (White Helmets) is a national institution founded on the principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence. These values have allowed us to operate independently, even when the communities we serve have been caught in local and international conflicts," the group said in a statement.

On Monday, the White Helmets called for solidarity with doctors and nurses in Idlib as a healthcare crisis threatens to unfold into a major humanitarian crisis.

"The already stretched doctors no longer have the resources to provide healthcare to three million people. This leaves them in an unimaginable situation: continuing their work without pay, with dwindling supplies, and facing unconscionable questions of which life to save, which patient to treat," the White Helmets said in a statement.

"These cuts will lead to more people losing their lives, increased spread of diseases... all this further punishes vulnerable civilians who are already coping with the impact of eight years of aerial attacks, forced displacement, and difficult winter conditions."

Fears are growing that Russia and the Syrian regime could begin a new bombardment of the rebel enclave now that HTS are in control, while a winter storm is currently hitting the region.

"The international community's decision to cut funding to hospitals in northwest Syria is a tragedy and shows the knock-on effects HTS' takeover has had," Leila Kiki, Executive Director of The Syria Campaign told The New Arab.

"Governments are concerned that aid could fall into the militants' hands but their decision will deny adequate healthcare to the region's three million civilians in the midst of a humanitarian crisis."

In addition, to cuts to healthcare and other vital infrastructure, Syrians also face increased lawlessness due to the suspension of operations by the Free Syrian Police force after the HTS took control of Idlib province.

"Innocent men, women and children in Syria should not be punished for the acts of men with arms and the whims of world leaders," Kiki added.