July 23 (UPI) -- The Syrian government on Monday condemned Israel's weekend evacuation of the White Helmets civil defense group from the war-torn country and into Jordan.
More than 400 White Helmets volunteers, U.S.-backed rescue workers aiding refugees and victims of Syria's civil war, and their families were removed from the one of the last anti-government strongholds in Syria. The mission was Israel's first involvement in the eight-year civil war. It participated at the request of the United States and other Western countries, it said.
The evacuation meant the group's members could escape an onslaught by the Syrian army, which considers the rescue workers enemies.
"Israel has always lied claiming that it doesn't have a relation to the war waged on Syria, yet it has smuggled hundreds of members of the White Helmets terrorist organization and of the leaders of other armed terrorist organizations in cooperation with the governments of the U.S., Britain, Jordan, Germany and Canada," Syria's foreign ministry said Monday. "This has uncovered the support provided by these states to the terrorist groups in their aggression against the Syrians and in destroying the infrastructure in Syria under false pretexts."
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's administration regards the White Helmets as agents of Western powers. He and Russian allies say the volunteers support the rebels and also have links to jihadist groups.
The White Helmets, who are financed by donations and other funding from foreign governments, works only in rebel-held territory and regards itself non-partisan.
Members of White Helmets, formally known as Syrian Civil Defense, had become trapped in southwest Syria near the Israeli border last week and were rescued by Israeli forces. They boarded buses to Jordan and were expected to emigrate to the United States, Canada and Germany in about three months.
About 100 members of the group and their families were evacuated.
While starting as a rebuilding group, their task became the rescue of civilians caught in the civil war. Numbering about 3,000, the group is believed to have saved the lives of more than 100,000 people. About 200 White Helmets members have been killed in the conflict.