Informational picket at Toronto International Film Festival

 Ken Stone —

The Syria Solidarity Movement (SSM) today announces that it will have an informational picket of the documentary film, “The White Helmets”, at the Toronto International Film Festival. The picket will take place on Thursday, September 15, at 10:30 am at the Scotiabank Theatre, 259 Richmond Street West at the corner of Peter Street, where the media/industry screening of the documentary will take place as part of Short Cuts Programme 11.

The SSM calls on TIFF not to show this particular documentary because the White Helmets organization, described in TIFF’s promotional material as “a small group of volunteer heroes”, is a fraud. The documentary, “The White Helmets”, like the organization itself, is part of a propaganda offensive, directed at western audiences, in order to incite more violence against the people and government of Syria and to justify further military intervention by western countries against the sovereign state of Syria.

For more than five years, proxy armies of the USA, its NATO allies (including Canada), and various Arab monarchies (such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar) have waged an illegal war and occupation in Syria, resulting in close to half a million deaths, turning 11 million Syrians into displaced people, and laying waste Syrian infrastructure. The goal of the operation is regime change. The White Helmets organization is part of this illegal operation and yet, in the documentary, is depicted as a positive force.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The White Helmets organization was founded by John LeMesurier, a former British army officer, later connected to the notorious Blackwater mercenary organization. It is well-funded by the same governments who are waging the current aggression against Syria. In the past 2.5 years, it received £19.7m from the British government and $ 23m  from the US government. Millions more dollars in cash, equipment, and training were contributed by various European NATO countries (including $4m from the Netherlands). The White Helmets operate only in terrorist-controlled areas of Syria. The organization is, in fact, deeply embedded in the Nusra (Al Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria) and ISIS terrorist groups. The White Helmet leader, Raed Saleh, was refused entry to the USA and deported from Dulles Airport in Washington, DC, on March 29, 2016, because immigration officials found that he had “terrorist connections.” (1) Saleh has repeatedly called for a no-fly zone over Syria, the same tactic used by NATO in 2011 to bomb Libya into a failed state.

The White Helmets are first-responder poseurs. The REAL Syria Civil Defence was established in Syria in 1953 and was a founding member of the ICDO [International Civil Defence Org.] which is recognised by the UN. The White Helmets were only formed in 2013 by the UK, Turkey, and the US as part of their neocolonialist programme in Syria. The White Helmets are not members of the ICDO.

The SSM insists that TIFF should do the right thing and pull the “The White Helmets” from its Short Cuts Programme 11.

For further info, please contact Ken at 905-383-7693 or kenstone@cogeco.ca

Raed Saleh, the head of the Syria Civil Defense, was to accept the award from InterAction, an alliance of aid agencies, at its gala dinner Tuesday night in Washington. The dinner’s keynote speaker was Gayle Smith, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development.

But when Mr. Saleh, who works in Syria and Turkey, arrived Monday at Washington’s Dulles International Airport on a flight from Istanbul, the authorities said he could not enter the United States. He was told his visa had been canceled.

It was unclear whether Mr. Saleh’s name might have shown up on a database, fed by a variety of intelligence and security agencies and intended to guard against the prospect of terrorism suspects slipping into the country.

The State Department declined to give specifics, but a spokesman, John Kirby, said that “the U.S. government’s system of continual vetting means that traveler records are screened against available information in real time.”

“While we can’t confirm any possible specific actions in this case, we do have the ability to immediately coordinate with our interagency partners when new information becomes available,” he added.

Mr. Saleh was put on the next flight back to Istanbul. In a telephone interview from Istanbul on Wednesday, Mr. Saleh sought to turn the focus to the experience of millions of Syrians who find the world’s borders closed to them.

“In any airport, the treatment we get as Syrians is different,” he said. “The way they look at us, we are suspected.” In his case, he pointed out, he had no intention of staying longer than 16 hours.

His group is widely known as the White Helmets for the headgear its members wear as they rush to bomb sites to rescue survivors and dig out the dead from the rubble. Government supporters have criticized the group for working in some areas held by the Nusra Front, a terrorist organization linked to Al Qaeda. But like many internal aid groups, it says it is neutral and seeks to help civilians no matter whose territory they live in.

Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma at Norman, called the denial of entry “a scandal.”

“The White Helmets are one of the few organizations in Syria that have been above reproach,” he said. “They have tried to observe strict neutrality in order to facilitate their humanitarian work and save lives. To do this they have worked along side all sorts of militias in order to get to victims of the fighting.”

At the dinner on Tuesday night, InterAction staff members wore white helmets in solidarity — and posted a photo on Twitter.

“I really was moved by this moment,” Mr. Saleh said. “It was a stance of the unity of humanity — and I don’t mean the international community, I mean humanity.”

Mr. Saleh, who once made a living buying and selling electronics, became a search-and-rescue volunteer after the Syrian civil war began in 2011. He has traveled to the United States several times. He was in Manhattan in September 2014, during the United Nations General Assembly’s annual conclave, where he pressed diplomats to come to the assistance of areas controlled by rebels fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president.

Last June, he testified before  on the Syrian government’s use of barrel bombs. The Assad government continues to strongly deny using the explosives.

Ms. Smith, the U.S.A.I.D. administrator, praised the work of Mr. Saleh’s organization at the dinner, without elaborating on why he had been denied entry.

“These are people who once led ordinary lives, with ordinary jobs,” she said. “They were teachers, bakers, and drivers. But there is no ordinary in Syria anymore. But Raed and his colleagues don’t run away. They run toward the bombs, protected only by their white helmets and driven by a simple belief inspired by the Quran — to save one life is to save humanity.”

InterAction staff members said they planned to honor Mr. Saleh next month at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul.

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