Members of the so-called White Helmets are practically terrorists and will be given the same choice as others: lay down their weapons and invoke amnesty or be killed, Syrian President Bashar Assad told Russian journalists.
“The fate of White Helmets will be the same as any other terrorist. They have two choices: to lay down their arms and use the amnesty we have offered over the last four or five years, or be killed like the other terrorists,” Assad said.
The Syrian president maintained there is no such legitimate organization as White Helmets.
“It’s a mask, a mask for Al-Nusra (an Al-Qaeda affiliate),” he said. “You have videos and photos of this group’s members holding swords and celebrating the death of Syrian soldiers.”
“What more evidence do you need that they are not a humanitarian organization, but a mask used by Al-Qaeda?” Assad said.
The self-styled rescue organization operates only in areas of Syria under control of anti-government militants, who have received backing from the US, UK and some of Syria’s neighbors since the conflict began in 2011. They have been key witnesses to claims of Syrian atrocities, including allegations of chemical weapons use, that have been used as pretext for attempted intervention by Western powers.
Last week, Israel evacuated a number of “White Helmets” from the rebel-held territory in Deraa ahead of the advancing Syrian forces. The Israeli military said the evacuation was undertaken at the request of the US, Canada and some European countries.
After eliminating the rebel and Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) pockets in Deraa, the Syrian army is setting its sights on the rebel stronghold of Idlib, Assad told reporters.
“Our goal now is Idlib, but not only Idlib,” he said. “There are territories in the east of Syria controlled by various groups. A little bit is held by IS, and some by the Al-Nusra Front and other militant formations.”
Last month, the Syrian president said that he was also seeking to negotiate reintegration with the Syrian Democratic Forces, a US-backed umbrella group made up mostly of Kurdish militias fighting IS in the north-eastern part of Syria.
“We all don’t trust the Americans, [so] the one option is to live with each other as Syrians,” Assad told RT in June. Every attempt would be made to negotiate with the SDF, but if negotiations fail, “the Syrian army will be forced to liberate areas occupied by the SDF, with the Americans or without the Americans.”