White Helmets accuse Syrian missile attack of killing volunteer

The volunteer group said Abdul Baset Abdul Khaleq died while a rescue van toured areas shelled by artillery.

Volunteers in white helmets and yellow vests are seen in a healthcare van.
Members of the White Helmets in the aftermath of a Russian air strike at Jisr al-Shughour, Syria, on June 25 [File: White Helmets, handout/Reuters]

The White Helmets, a volunteer organisation that offers emergency services in Syria and Turkey, has announced that one of its members was killed by a “guided heat missile” in what it described as a targeted attack.

The group, also known as the Syria Civil Defence, identified the victim as a volunteer named Abdul Baset Abdul Khaleq.

In a string of social media posts on Tuesday, the White Helmets accused government forces under Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of “deliberately” aiming at its rescue team’s car with a deadly “double-tap strike”.

The vehicle had been touring areas shelled by artillery in southeast Atarib, a city west of Aleppo, according to the posts.

The White Helmets remembered Khaleq for his selflessness, sharing a photo of him giving blood to address local medical needs.

“Just yesterday, he was donating his blood to save a fellow human’s life. Today, he sacrificed his very soul,” the group wrote on Twitter.

“His dedication to serving others and his willingness to give of himself for the greater good will forever be etched in our hearts.”

Video released with the posts shows the burned and twisted wreckage of a white van, from which the White Helmet volunteers remove a body that is then taken on a gurney to a waiting ambulance.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a human rights monitor based in the United Kingdom, appeared to echo the White Helmets’ assessment of the death.

“A volunteer in a rescue team was killed in an attack with a guided missile on a vehicle by the regime forces stationed in the 46th Regiment in western Aleppo countryside,” it wrote in a press release.

Since the start of the year, the monitor estimates that 243 people have been killed in Syria’s so-called “de-escalation zones”, areas where rebels and government forces had agreed to cease hostilities.

Syria has been enmeshed in war since 2011, when anti-government protests associated with the Arab Spring movement were met with violent repression.

The fighting has since escalated, involving multiple armed groups and international forces.

From 2011 to 2021, the United Nations estimated that the total civilian death toll reached 306,887, amounting to nearly 1.5 percent of the pre-war population.

More than 6.8 million people have been displaced within Syria as a result of the violence, with 5.28 million more seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.

Healthcare workers have also suffered during the war, with human rights groups and medical organisations accusing fighters of targeting their facilities.

President al-Assad has denied attacking hospitals, which is a violation of international humanitarian law.

But the World Health Organization has said there were 194 verified attacks on healthcare vehicles and buildings in 2018 alone. Those attacks left 143 people dead and 259 more injured.

The White Helmets began their work during the war but have since expanded their efforts, assisting in rescue operations following the devastating earthquake in Syria and Turkey this year.

Their work has been profiled in several high-profile films, including the Oscar-winning short The White Helmets and the full-length documentary Last Men in Aleppo, which won a grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

In the wake of Tuesday’s death, the group said that 306 of its volunteers have been killed, “the majority of whom fell victim to double attacks by Syrian regime forces and Russia while rescuing civilians”.

It appealed to the international community for “resolute action” in response to these attacks.

“We implore the world to hold the Assad regime accountable for its atrocities against the Syrian people, paving the way for peace to be established in Syria,” it wrote.

Source: Al Jazeera