Muted Oscar celebrations for White Helmets as Syria bleeds

Muted Oscar celebrations for White Helmets as Syria bleeds
While Sunday's Oscar signalled recognition of the rescue organisation's life-saving work, on the ground in Syria it was business as usual in a conflict defined by grotesque suffering and destruction.
3 min read
27 Feb, 2017
The White Helmets are on the front line of Syria rescue operations [AFP]

While The White Helmets documentary scored a victory in the Oscars on Sunday, civil rescue workers from the group in Syria continued to save families trapped under rubble caused by bombardment.

The film's Oscar success was a sign of recognition for the life-saving work conducted by the civil defence team on the ground in Syria, but the members of the White Helmets - and subjects of the film - did not have time to celebrate.

As bombs continue to fall on opposition controlled areas of Syria - threatening an increasingly precarious Russian-Turkish brokered ceasefire - for many White Helmets it was business as usual.

On Monday morning, a statement posted on the group's Twitter page said that its members continued their life saving work on the ground, specifically in rebel-held Idlib province during the award ceremony.

Notably, no member of the group was present in Los Angeles on Sunday to pick up the award in the Best Documentary Short category in part due to visa restrictions established by the Trump administration and also due to Damascus' decision to cancel the passports of the filmmakers.

While White Helmet rescue teams endeavoured to rescue civilians in Idlib, elsewhere in Syria on Sunday violence continued unabated in a conflict entering its sixth year, in which hundreds of thousands have lost their lives.

Monitors noted that clashes between regime and opposition troops continued on several fronts, with regime shelling reported in areas including Aleppo and Latakia provinces.

Air raids were also reported in areas of Homs and Hama provinces. 

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights additionally noted reports from local medical sources in Harasta in East Ghouta, close to Damascus, stating that air raids carried out in the area included the dropping of chemical agents, in signs of a potential chlorine gas attack

Representatives of the Syrian regime and opposition are currently sitting down to talks in Geneva towards a political solution to conflict in Syria, and an end to the grotesque levels of violence the country, and its population - 11 million of whom have been displaced from their homes - continues to witness.

However, the atmosphere surrounding the talks, and their capacity to facilitate a transition towards peace, has been pessimistic at best

Over 150 White Helmet members have been killed conducting life-saving work in Syria [AFP]

Stalling UN-brokered diplomacy evidenced by former UN chief Ban ki-Moon's frustration with the global body's Security Council members' (in particular Russia, and China's) power to veto potentially life-saving rulings has in many ways come to define the stubborn, intransigence of a bloody conflict, and those actors, both internal and external participating in it.

Commenting on The White Helmets' victory at Sunday's Oscars, its head Raed Saleh expressed gratitude for the recognition bestowed on the group by the award. 

"We are honoured that The White Helmets film has received an Oscar. This film has helped show the world what is happening in Syria and we want to thank our brothers and sisters who stand on the side of life," said Saleh in a statement. 

However, the White Helmets chief, further pointed out that members of the group - over 150 of whom have given their lives in life-saving rescue missions - are not able to view their Oscar victory simply with emotions of joy.

The White Helmets Oscar victory is also a recognition of death and destruction, that global powers have failed to act effectively to curb.

As Saleh noted: "We are not happy with what we do. We abhor the reality we live in. What we want isn't support to continue, but rather support to end this work.

"We hope this film and the attention helps move the world to act to stop the bloodshed in Syria."

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