The United States has condemned the killing of seven workers form the Syrian civil defense, popularly known as the White Helmets, after they were shot in their sleep in Idib province on Saturday.
“We are saddened and horrified to hear about the brutal murders of seven Syrian Civil Defense Members, more widely known as the White Helmets, in Sarmeen, Idlib,” US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement on Sunday.
The White Helmets said unidentified gunmen shot the seven members dead during a raid on their base Saturday in the town of Sarmin, east of Idlib city.
“These cowardly acts of masked men took the lives of civilian volunteers who work tirelessly as first responders in order to save lives in incredibly dangerous environments.”
“We want to send our condolences to the families of these heroes and hope they are able to seek justice for the loss of their loved ones at the hands of these criminals,” Nauert added.
Echoing the US State Department remarks, UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he was “appalled” by the “targeted and heinous murders” of the rescue workers.
“I am appalled by the targeted and heinous murders of heroic White Helmets volunteers who put their own safety at risk to save lives on all sides of the Syrian conflict,” Johnson said in comments he posted on Twitter on Monday.
“Their bravery and humanity is so inspiring and their deaths a huge loss for their families, Syria and the world,” Johnson added.
Thousands of people on Sunday demonstrated in many towns and villages across Syria to condemn the crime and express full solidarity with the volunteer group which has far rescued tens of thousands of people from rubble after airstrikes by the Assad regime and its allies on the rebel-held areas.
Civil society organizations and colleagues also held vigils across Syria to protest against the killing of colleagues, raising placards that indicated they would carry on with their humanitarian work despite all hardships.
The Syrian civil defense is a volunteer group whose members work in the liberated areas to help victims of the bombardment by the Assad regime and its allies as well as to document the victims.
Members of the non-partisan group are deployed in around 100 centers distributed across eight Syrian provinces. Dozens of rescue workers were killed in line of duty as the aid group has been a constant target for the Assad regime and allies’ air forces.
The White Helmets rose to prominence when it was nominated for a Nobel peace prize. A film on the volunteers work won the 2017 Oscar for best short documentary, and won the 2016 Alternative Nobel peace prize. (Source: Syrian Coalition’s Media Department + Agencies)