Syria’s Civil Defence volunteers, known as the “White Helmets” have been putting themselves in harm’s way since 2013, trying to save lives. These unarmed men and women have been seen in amateur and press agency footage for the last five years of war in countless dangerous situations, digging people out of ruined buildings as the bombs fall around them.
The organisation insists it is apolitical but it is accused by Moscow and Damascus of being close to what they call terrorist groups. It intervenes in areas beyond the government’s control and in Washington the White Helmet’s leader, Raed al-Saleh,
has announced that eastern Aleppo is dying under the weight of bombs and has called for aid donations.
“So in the past eight days we have witnessed a ferocious campaign against Aleppo. We’ve documented 1,700 air strikes on the city of Aleppo. Nineteen of those have been attacks with bunker-busters. And 200 of them have been cluster bomb attacks and weapons that are banned internationally,” he said on September 27.
There are around 3,000 male and female White Helmet volunteers from all over Syria. Butchers and bakers, engineers or schoolteachers, people from all walks of life have answered the call.
“We have 120 volunteers with the White Helmets in the city of Aleppo today. Twelve of them have been injured and so we’re trying to convene training sessions in the town of Aleppo to recruit new volunteers because of the ferocious bombing campaign that is unprecedented in the city of Aleppo,” added Raed al-Saleh.
Pictures that last week showed a woman and her four-month-old baby being saved by the White Helmets went around the world. Her relief was palpable, but no less revealing were the tears shed by the exhausted rescue worker afterwards.
On the White Helmet’s website the organisation claims to have saved more than 62,000 people since 2013. It has also lost 145 volunteers, killed in the bombardments.
On September 23 three of Aleppo’s four Civil Defence Centres were targeted by air strikes. According to rebel sources the strikes were carried out using technology and munitions that are only available to Russian forces.