Syria's White Helmets rescuers will not attend Oscars due to regime attacks

White Helmet rescuers free a boy from the rubble following a reported barrel bomb attack in Aleppo, Nov 24, 2016.
White Helmet rescuers free a boy from the rubble following a reported barrel bomb attack in Aleppo, Nov 24, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIRUT (AFP) - Rescue workers from Syria's White Helmets group - the subject of an Oscar-nominated documentary - will not attend this weekend's Academy Awards ceremony because of intensified regime bombing, their leader said on Saturday (Feb 25).

"I am not going because of our workload due to intensified regime strikes on the provinces of Damascus, Daraa and Homs," Raed Saleh told AFP.

"There are many things that have to be done on the ground, such as managing operations and providing emergency vehicles," he said.

Saleh and fellow White Helmet member Khaled Khatib had been set to attend Sunday's ceremony in Hollywood, where The White Helmets is shortlisted for best short documentary.

Istanbul-based Khatib, who shot much of the footage, also confirmed that he would not attend the ceremony, despite obtaining an American visa.

"I won't travel to OSCAR due to intensity of work, our priority is helping our people," he tweeted in English on Saturday.

"I was going to leave on Tuesday, but there was too much work because of the bombing," Khatib told AFP by telephone.

"I'm also working on producing another film about the White Helmets that has to be ready in two weeks. I will not go."

The two rescuers had feared they could be barred from attending the ceremony because of US President Donald Trump's late January executive order imposing a 90-day entry ban for citizens of seven Muslim majority countries, including Syria.

 

The ban has since been lifted by a US federal court, and on Feb 18 the pair received their visas.

More than 310,000 people have died since Syria's conflict erupted in March 2011, and more than half of the country's citizens have been forced to flee their homes.

Since the White Helmets group was created in 2013, it has hired more than 3,000 volunteers and claims to have saved more than 78,000 lives. It takes its name from the protective headgear worn by its members.