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The army you’ve never heard of

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President Bashar al-Assad’s control of political life in Syria has incrementally dissolved as rebel forces have taken large swaths of Syrian land. Approximately 470,000 people have died between the civil war’s start in 2011 and early 2016 due to this increasingly global catastrophe, and many others have been dramatically affected. Without basic necessities, millions of people within the divided Middle Eastern nation face extreme circumstances previously unheard of. The Syrian Civil Defense, commonly identified by their white helmets and bearing the same name, is a volunteer organization created to rescue civilians in the aftermath of the heavy bombings that have characterized the Syrian Civil War.

The White Helmets is an organization of 3,000 volunteers. Aleppo, Syria is the center of their current operations due to the bombings of residents by Russia and Assad’s regime, but they have 115 centers throughout Syria in order to provide fast assistance wherever an airstrike may hit. Their first rescue crews began training under the Turkish government in 2013, and eventually the SCD came to save more than 60,000 lives at the cost of 141 of their own. The White Helmets are financed by foreign governments and private donations, and they are the only major rescue operation currently active in Aleppo.

Basic RGB“Up to now, there (are) complete families under the rubble. Dead bodies,” White Helmets volunteer Ammar Selmo said to NPR about the city of Aleppo. The situation in Syria has continued to deteriorate as the struggle for the major city of 2.3 million intensifies. A week long ceasefire between all parties in Aleppo apart from ISIS began on September 12th. It ended with heavy bombings of neighborhoods controlled by rebels as a part of a new government offensive to retake East Aleppo. “It was like a circle of madness, a circle of Hell,” Selmo said. Syrian and Russian jets targeted residential areas and hit three of the four operating centers of the SCD in Aleppo.

The Parkviewer contacted Syrian Civil Defense photographer Khaled Khatib, who reported 60 airstrikes accompanied by a death toll of 30 in East Aleppo on September 23rd, the first day of the offensive. These attacks rendered two million civilians without water as reported by BBC.

Statistics from a war-zone are rarely accurate: the number of the dead could in reality be much higher. While it became too dangerous for United Nations data collectors to keep boots on the ground in Aleppo, the White Helmets descended upon the war-torn city. The following day, Syrian cluster bombings caused 19 more deaths than the previous day’s strike. White Helmet volunteers promptly responded by pulling bodies both dead and alive from the rubble.

For their brave actions, the White Helmets have been nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in October. War has been a historical reality for humanity. SCD volunteers have taken it upon themselves to stand in the way of greater casualties in the Syrian Civil War and to save as many innocent lives as they can. As James Le Mesurier, the founder of the White Helmets, said, “You can’t dial 911. You can’t dial the fire service. You can’t call the local police department. They don’t exist.”

By Matt Carroll and Andrew Schuster

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The news site of Parkview High School.
The army you’ve never heard of