Rescue workers in war-torn Syria are staging protests in solidarity with their colleagues that were killed. It is another example of how the rules of war have been thrown out in the Syrian conflict. Those who are on peaceful humanitarian missions now risk their own lives, as militias target everyone, regardless of why they are in Syria or what they are doing to help the lives of the Syrian people.
Seven members of the Syrian civil defense, which are known in the international community as ‘White Helmets’, were shot dead by unknown assailants on Saturday in Sarmin, a town close to the border between Syria and Turkey. These workers assist victims of airstrikes by finding them in the rubble in opposition-held areas of Syria.
In response to these killings, White Helmet volunteers held vigils across Syria on Sunday, pointing out in their signs that the men of this civil defense are focused on saving lives, but no one is protecting them.
“Every one of you has a story with the wounded and you have given your blood to save others,” said Raed al-Saleh, head of the White Helmets. “I hold all those who claim leadership responsible. You must uncover the criminals who carried out this heinous crime.”
The Syrian civil defense also noted that the attackers had also stolen two vans used to transport the wounded to medical facilities. Nearly 200 of these volunteers have been killed in the line of duty. Those who have died were primarily killed in Syrian government warplanes that target rescuers who arrive at the scenes of airstrikes.
These rescue workers received international attention when they were nominated for a Nobel peace prize. A film on the volunteers also won an Oscar in 2017. Idlib has long been under the control of a coalition of Islamist rebel groups, but is still home to nearly 2 million civilians, and that includes refugees from other areas of Syria as well.
All sides of the conflict have been accused of attacking aid and health workers, although the evidence supports the regime of Assad being primarily responsible for most of the documented abuses.
“These cowardly acts of masked men took the lives of civilian volunteers who work tirelessly as first responders in order to save lives in incredibly dangerous environments,” said Heather Nauert, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman, as part of a statement condemning the attack. She also describes the White Helmets as heroes.
Physicians for Human Rights has documented 478 attacks on health facilities in Syria from March 2011 to June 2017. This includes 432 by the Syrian government and its allies and 20 by rebel groups. More than 800 medical personnel were killed during the same period.