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'White Helmets' Rescuers Say Oscar Win Shows People Care About Syrians Under Fire


Khaled Khatib, a Syrian cinematographer on the Oscar-winning documentary 'White Helmets' speaks during an interview with Reuters TV in central Istanbul, Turkey, Feb. 27, 2017.

The Oscar awarded to a documentary about the daily lives of volunteers of a Syrian search and rescue group called the "White Helmets" shows people care about its mission to help civilians caught in Syria's civil war, the group said on Monday.

The White Helmets operate a rescue service in rebel-held parts of Syria, which have been subjected to fierce bombardment by the government and Russia's air force during the country's civil war that has leveled whole city districts.

Syria's government under President Bashar al-Assad has accused the group of being a front for al Qaeda and of faking footage of the aftermath of air strikes for propaganda purposes, charges the White Helmets deny.

"I am absolutely delighted that we won an Oscar — it show us that people care about us and the people we serve," said Khaled Khatib, a volunteer and cinematographer on the film, which won an Oscar for best short documentary at Sunday's award ceremony.

"We are honored that 'The White Helmets' film has received an Oscar," Raed Saleh, head of the Syria Civil Defense, said in a statement posted on Twitter early on Monday. "But we are not happy to do what we do. We abhor the reality we live in," he added.

The 40-minute Netflix film, directed by British documentary-maker Orlando von Einsiedel, follows volunteers as they conduct search and rescue operations in Aleppo and undergo training in Turkey.

But members of the "White Helmets" could not attend the awards ceremony in Los Angeles because of passport issues and air strikes in Syria, the group said in a statement.

Both Saleh and Khatib were given visas by the United States for the Oscars ceremony in Los Angeles.

However, in a statement early on Sunday, the White Helmets said Saleh would not be able to leave his work because of the high intensity of air strikes while Khatib could not attend because Syria's government had cancelled his passport.

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

The nearly six-year-long conflict in Syria has killed at least 300,000 people and displaced millions, according to groups that monitor the war.

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