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Syrian Civilian Rescue Force Urges More Action From US, Europe in Securing Cease-fire


This photo provided on Jan. 7, 2018, by the Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Civil Defense workers inspecting a damaged building after a bombing in Idlib, Syria.

A top member of a Syrian civilian rescue group called Tuesday for more action from the United States and other Western governments to stop what appears to be intensifying violence in Syria.

Abdulrahman Almawwas described dire conditions in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta where roughly 400,000 civilians are under siege.

Speaking to reporters in Paris, the vice president of the Syrian White Helmets rescue force warned of a humanitarian crisis similar to that in Aleppo during a government offensive to retake the city in 2016. It was time, he said, for U.S. President Donald Trump and European leaders to do more, including ensuring a real cease-fire.

“We hope from him (Trump) to do more against (the Syrian regime),” said Almawwas. “They can do more than this. Back to international humanitarian law. There is war crimes — maybe they can count the criminals.”

Abdulrahman Almawwas, vice-president of the Syrian White Helmets voluntary rescue force, in Paris., Feb. 13, 2018. (L.Bryant/VOA)
Abdulrahman Almawwas, vice-president of the Syrian White Helmets voluntary rescue force, in Paris., Feb. 13, 2018. (L.Bryant/VOA)

Almawwas was in Paris to take that message directly to French authorities. He said red lines outlined by President Emmanuel Macron among others— in terms of chemical weapons and humanitarian corridors in Syria — had long been crossed.

Macron said Tuesday that France would strike in Syria if chemical weapons are used against civilians, but that there was no proof of this to date.

“When we speak about the chemical attacks or targeting hospitals, this is a war crime,” said Almawwas. “And here, should do something. If we go to the Security Council there is a court and many (files) about the war crimes in Syria. And there is international humanitarian law. And nobody does anything about it.”

Observers warn the multi-dimensional Syrian crisis threatens to widen. The United Nations said Saturday that Syrian and Russian airstrikes killed 230 civilians over the previous week alone in Eastern Ghouta and Idlib, in northwestern Syria.

This photo provided by the Syrian Civil Defense, shows a White Helmets worker carrying a child after airstrikes hit a school housing a number of displaced people in the Daraa province of Syria, June 14, 2017.
This photo provided by the Syrian Civil Defense, shows a White Helmets worker carrying a child after airstrikes hit a school housing a number of displaced people in the Daraa province of Syria, June 14, 2017.

Almawwas said food was scarce in Eastern Ghouta and rescue workers had few means to respond to airstrikes.

“We were there with vans. We don’t have any ambulances in Al Gouta,” Almawwas said. “We work with our hands, with shovels, with basic extinguishers. We don’t have enough fire engines for the whole area.”

The White Helmets are said to have rescued thousands of civilians in opposition-held territory, although some challenge their claims.

Almawwas says foreign government donations for the group plummeted this past year. But as the Syrian conflict enters its eighth year, he says more and more Syrians are becoming White Helmets to reach about 3,700 current members.

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