Syria’s White Helmets have suspended several members of their rescue team after stomach-churning footage emerged showing rebel militants conducting a summary execution of a man in the town of Jasim, with the White Helmets helping get rid of the body.
Graphic images released on Wednesday show blood pouring out of the execution victim’s head. After the man is shot dead on camera – in front of a large crowd in the town of Jasim in Daraa, southern Syria – volunteers from the White Helmets move in to dispose of the body, AMN reported.
On Thursday, Syria’s White Helmets, also known as the Syrian Civil Defense, issued a statement, acknowledging that their volunteers’ actions “did not fully uphold the strict principles of neutrality and impartiality.”
“Two Civil Defense volunteers were seen to act improperly and not in accordance with the voluntary Code of Conduct for Syria Civil Defense members,” the statement said, adding that the members have been suspended for three months.
“Syria Civil Defense expects each and every volunteer to perform their duties to the highest professional standard, as the individual actions of one member impact the reputation of all volunteers and the organization as a whole,” the statement noted.
The group explained that earlier this week, members of Syria Civil Defense received a request from local authorities to “dispose of the body of a person that had been sentenced to death by the local court for murder.”
The problem appears to be that the White Helmets’ local team leader failed to seek “permission from his superiors before agreeing to the request” to dispose of the body, and was later dismissed, the group said.
Hailed as peace-bearing heroes by the mainstream media, the White Helmets have long been plagued by allegations of having ties with terrorist groups. Russia's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said late last month that the White Helmets support terrorists and cover up their crimes.
“The White Helmets not only feel at home on territories controlled by Al-Nusra Front and Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL], but also openly express positive attitudes towards them, providing them with information and even financial assistance,” Zakharova said, as cited by TASS.
She noted that “there is documentary evidence” showing that White Helmets members were in fact part of certain operations by the terrorists. Zakharova said there are videos showing Syrian troops being tortured and executed in the presence of White Helmets.
The Western mainstream media have repeatedly ignored all these reports, however, Zakharova said. The group’s behavior during the alleged chemical attack on Syria’s Khan Shaykhun on April 4 is “particularly worth mentioning,” she said.
“It was the allegedly-irrefutable evidence provided by them that gave the US a pretext to carry out an act of aggression against the Syrian Shayrat Airbase on April 7,” Zakharova noted, adding that that the Swedish NGO Doctors for Human Rights had accused the White Helmets of falsifying information about their humanitarian work in Syria by producing staged videos.
The group’s website meanwhile states that White Helmets volunteers have saved “90,922 lives – and this number is growing daily,” with rescue workers actively “operating in areas outside of government control” in Syria.
Yet a Canadian journalist and rights activist, Eva Bartlett, who has traveled to Syria multiple times since the start of the conflict, said that while members of the group “purport to be rescuing civilians in eastern Aleppo and Idlib [but] …no one in eastern Aleppo has heard of them.”
Bartlett noted during a highly-emotional speech at the UN in December, that “their video footage actually contains children that have been ‘recycled’ in different reports; so you can find a girl named Aya who turns up in a report in say, August, and she turns up in the next month in two different locations.”
Aleppo residents also told RT that the group’s rescue efforts go only as far as to release dramatic videos, saying the White Helmets are nothing but “camera posers, thieves, and raiders.”