The Syrian Civil Defense Corps, known as the white helmets, condemned attempts by Russian media outlets to discredit its work through the circulation of false information about their volunteers.
The White Helmets said it was alerted about a video entitled “The White Helmets: The Mask of Terror” produced by the Russian media agency Anna News and published on January 7. The video showed Abdulhadi Kamel, a volunteer with the White Helmets, saying they were staging rescue operations to accuse the Assad regime and Russian forces of bombing civilians in eastern Aleppo.
The White Helmets on Tuesday stressed that the statement made by Kamel was obtained under extreme duress. It pointed out that Kamel was a volunteer from eastern Aleppo, but now detained by the Assad regime.
“We are deeply upset to see our friend and colleague in such obvious distress as we call for his immediate release. We hold the Assad regime and its allies responsible for his safety,” the White Helmet said.
On December 12, Kamel was part of a convoy of forcedly displaced civilians traveling from eastern Aleppo to western rural Aleppo. Despite guarantees by the Russian government, the convoy was stopped and attacked by regime forces and their allied foreign militias at the Ramousa checkpoint in southern Aleppo. Four civilians were killed and 10 others, including Kamel, were injured in the attack, which represented a clear violation of international humanitarian law.
According to fellow volunteers on the convoy, Kamel was shot in the shoulder. After the assault, pro-regime militias moved all of the dead and injured to areas under their control inside Aleppo and sent the convoy with the remaining displaced people back to besieged eastern Aleppo. The first time the White Helmets saw Kamel afterwards was on January 7, when he appeared in the video published by Anna News media outlet.
Two days after Kamel has disappeared, the White Helmets learned through some local sources that he was taken to the infamous Air Force Intelligence branch in Aleppo. However, the White Helmets did not publicly acknowledge his detention for fear of endangering his life given the regime’s record of targeting and torturing humanitarian workers.
“We have no doubt that Kamel has been forced to make false confessions for propaganda reasons. One glance at his face is enough to realize that this man is not speaking his mind, but speaking out of fear for his life. The Assad regime has a long history of broadcasting false confessions from those they consider ‘terrorists’,” the White Helmets added.
“The claims made that the Syrian Civil Defense volunteers are actors have no basis in reality. The Syrian Civil Defense is a humanitarian organization, nonpolitical or military, according to the principles of the Geneva Convention of 1949 and is committed to neutrality and nondiscrimination. We have thus far managed to save the lives of over 82,280 people since the White Helmets was founded in March 2013. Our lifesaving work has been recognized, and we received multiple humanitarian awards, including the nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize and most importantly by the communities we come from and serve,” the White Helmets said.
“Despite the smear campaigns being run by the Assad regime and its Russia ally against the Syrian Civil Defense and other humanitarian organizations, we will continue to do our best to serve our communities.” (Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Office)