How the White Helmets of Syria are being hunted in a devastated Aleppo

Jared Malsin reports: It should have been a banner month for the White Helmets. The acclaimed Syrian volunteer rescue group is the subject of a documentary that was released on Netflix on Sept. 16. The organization is up for the Nobel Peace Prize next month, and a raft of celebrities including George Clooney, Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake petitioned the prize committee in support of the group’s nomination. On Sept. 22, the White Helmets, who are known inside Syria as the Civil Defense, won the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the “alternative Nobel,” honoring the volunteers for their bravery in rushing to the aid of Syrian civilians under relentless bombardment. The group claims to have rescued some 60,000 people since 2013.

But now, the White Helmets have become the targets of that bombing. In the besieged rebel-held section of the city of Aleppo, at least three of the group’s four operations centers were damaged by airstrikes in one night. Many of their vehicles were destroyed. A fire station was heavily damaged. Even the rescue center featured in the Netflix documentary was destroyed.

The bombing was the heaviest in months, part of of a new military offensive by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad against the rebel enclave. “Right now people are crying from under the rubble in al-Mashhad, in al-Sukari, in Ansari. We couldn’t respond because we don’t have any vehicles,” says Ammar al-Selmo, a civil defense captain, referring to three eastern Aleppo neighborhoods during a phone interview on Friday. He said two of the four civil defense centers were put out of operation. [Continue reading…]

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