Written by Whitney Webb; Originally appeared on mintpressnews.com
Syria’s Grand Mufti, the country’s highest religious official for practitioners of Sunni Islam, slammed Israel’s recent evacuations of members of the controversial “humanitarian” group, the White Helmets, and has called upon the Syrian and Russian governments to repatriate those evacuated and prosecute them for war crimes.
During a meeting with the family members of slain Russian soldiers aiding the Syrian military in reclaiming parts of the country from foreign-backed rebels, Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun stated:
These people [evacuated White Helmets] are not refugees. They are war criminals. I’d like to ask the governments of our two countries [Syria and Russia] to pursue the members of the White Helmets group, to find them anywhere they might be.”
Echoing past official statements from both the Syrian and Russian governments, Hassoun called the White Helmets “terrorists” and blamed them for using chemical weapons against civilians in areas held by opposition forces. The White Helmets have repeatedly blamed the Syrian government for using chemical weapons against its own people, but have been accused of staging those very incidents in order to justify Western military intervention in the country.
Furthermore, the controversial group — though treated as a heroic volunteer search-and-rescue group in the Western press — has repeatedly been found tooperate exclusively in areas controlled by terrorist and terrorist-linked groups, to assist terrorists in executing civilians, and to doctor footage, as well as using children — both dead and alive — in the production of pro-intervention propaganda.
Hassoun alluded to the role of the White Helmets as an arm of Western governments seeking to overthrow the Syrian government during his speech, stating:
We’d like to ask why they are not fleeing to Syria, why they don’t want to return to the Syrian society? There’s only one answer – they are the force that the West counted on to destroy the Syrian society.”
Notably, the White Helmets were founded by former U.K. military intelligence official-turned-mercenary James Le Mesurier in 2013 with seed funding from the U.S., U.K. and Japanese governments.
Hypocrisy revealed by evacuation
Hassoun’s remarks are one of the many recent criticisms from both Syria and Russia regarding Israel’s evacuation of the White Helmets. For instance, on Monday the Syrian Foreign Ministry called the evacuation a “smuggling operation” that was part of the larger “criminal process” aimed at destabilizing Syria. Russia similarly criticized the evacuation of the White Helmets, referring to the group as “pseudo-humanitarians,” and asserted that the evacuation is “symbolic” of the group’s hypocrisy.
In a statement, Russia’s foreign ministry elaborated on that point:
It is symbolic that the White Helmets chose to flee Syria with foreign intervention, thus revealing who they really are and demonstrating their hypocrisy to the entire world. As the saying goes, a guilty conscience gives itself away, and these operators clearly showed whose orders they were following and who was funding them.”
Israel has since claimed that the evacuation was carried out at the behest of the U.S., U.K. and other Western governments, which have provided over $100 million to the White Helmets group since its founding. MintPress recently reported that Israel’s evacuation of White Helmets’ members also included top rebel commanders of foreign-backed groups, some of whom are alleged to have ties to Israeli intelligence.
Top Photo | This image made from video released by the Israeli Defense Forces on, July 22, 2018 shows a member of the White Helmets waving to Israeli soldiers as he and his family board a bus to Jordan. Israeli Defense Forces via AP
Whitney Webb is a staff writer for MintPress News and a contributor to Ben Swann’s Truth in Media. Her work has appeared on Global Research, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has also made radio and TV appearances on RT and Sputnik. She currently lives with her family in southern Chile.