(Zaman Al Wasl- Interview)- The head of the Syrian Civil Defense accused Russia of targeting the members of the rescuing group in order to eliminate witnesses of its crimes in Syria, and then downplay the importance of the evidence provided by the humanitarian organization about those crimes.
Read Saleh assured in interview with Zaman al-Wasl that the White helmets will be the first to provide evidence of the crimes committed against the Syrian people by Russia, Iran and Bashar al-Assad's militias.
He described the role of the United Nations in supporting the White Helmets as ineffective.
Eight years of war in Syria have killed 560,000 people and driven half the pre-war population of 22 million from their homes, including more than 6 million as refugees to neighbouring countries.
The full interview:
*What is White Helmets and how does it operate in areas under heavy bombardment by the regime and Russia?
The organization works in all areas that can reach despite the difficulties. Therefore, to avoid the dangers, we have organized response mechanisms and services to suit the needs of the society in times of peace and war. Syrian Civil Defense has a number of centers with trained cadres that are distributed to ensure the arrival of teams at the earliest and the safest way. Volunteers work with the principle of the preservation of life as a priority.
*What are the needs of the White Helmets and what are your difficulties?
The top priority of the organization is to ensure the security and safety of volunteers and their centers, to ensure better services to the community. Logistically, the Syrian Civil Defense is in constant need to develop its equipment, replace what is lost due to shelling and direct targeting, and access advanced equipment prohibited from importing.
As for the difficulties, as I mentioned earlier, direct targeting and double strikes are the biggest obstacle for the volunteers, in addition to the inability of international institutions to protect civilians and us.
*What is the role of the United Nations in supporting the "White Helmets"? What is your comment on the UN providing the Assad regime and Russia with hospitals and civil defense centers?
The United Nations is ineffective, so we believe there is much that can be done by the UN when talking about Syria, yet we are constantly working to keep it informed so that it can change the current reality.
As for the issue of sharing our medical centers with the Assad regime and Russia, we have previously warned against the consequences of sharing this information because of the history of the Syrian regime in targeting field hospitals, medical points, ambulances and paramedics. We witness the near daily targeting of these centers, and its consequences on the lives of civilians and their ability to continue resisting.
* Why is the Assad regime and Russia marketing you as a "terrorist" organization, and what is the danger posed by a humanitarian civil organization to a major country like Russia?
The Syrian Civil Defense serves as the first respondent to the atrocities committed by the regime and Russian forces, so we are targeted by various means. The misleading Russian media tries to downplay the evidence we give of war crimes committed by the Russian coalition against Syrian civilians, which is terrifying Russia and the regime. But, the truth will be out and we will be the first to provide evidence of their crimes for the world.
*How many civil defense centers have Russia and the Assad regime targeted, and how many victims? Why this systematic targeting?
The number of martyrs of the Syrian Civil Defense is 269 to date, and our centers have been targeted more than 380 times since establishment in 2013. Although this targeting is a war crime, it shows their insistence to target humanitarian workers and medics, in order to kill the spirit of survival in the civilians, who rely heavily on us to stay in their cities and villages. We believe that we provide services that contribute significantly to the stability of civilians.
* What is the fate of the civil defense elements who were forced to "settle" with the regime after they were cut off in Daraa and Quneitra, and how many are they?
We do not know much about the fate of the volunteers who chose to stay. We have lost contact with them, but we wish safety and security for them and their families.
*On what basis were a number of defense elements selected to enter Jordan exclusively following the invasion of Daraa and Quneitra?
There was no basis other than the personal choice of volunteers. Those who wanted to stay remained at their personal responsibility. The rest left after considerable efforts from the UN and some countries supporting our work to ensure their safety.
* Many people in the south accused the Civil Defense of negligence during the invasion of Daraa. What is the reason, and what have you done to remedy this in the liberated north?
Without taking into account the logistical issues we face on a daily basis, it may seem to some that we have fallen short, but I can confirm that we have done everything we can to be with our people in Daraa, as we do everywhere we can reach.
* What is the role of the White Helmets in Turkey and opposition-controlled areas, especially in Ghosn Zeitoun and Dera Al-Furat?
We do not differentiate between Syrian cities, we work everywhere in the same way and always hope to improve our work, but of course the nature of the services we provide in relatively safe areas is different from those in areas that are within military operations. Our main goal is to facilitate the lives of Syrians wherever they are. For example, we are conducting street cleaning campaigns, strengthening electricity and water networks in safe areas, opening closed roads, and helping to provide primary medical services to women and children, as well as many other services, because these places are somewhat safe.
* How do you see the fate of civil defense if Russia and Assad take control of Idlib province?
It is difficult to answer this question and we hope that we will not reach this scenario. But I think the question should be about the fate of the three and a half million civilians residing in the province.
*What is the level of cooperation between the White Helmets and the International Committee of the Red Cross?
Currently, there is no cooperation between the two organizations, yet we look forward to building a good relationship that serves civilians. We also provide our staff with the expertise of a large organization such as the ICRC.
Zaman Al Wasl