Alerted by the chemical attack last week in Syria, the Turkish Red Crescent has started training Syrian search and rescue personnel for protection against such attacks. The country's fabled White Helmets group, the first responders to emergencies hailed for their heroic rescue efforts, were first to receive the training. In addition to the training, the Red Crescent supplied crews with protection kits against incidents involving chemical weapons and leaks.
Headed by Red Crescent President Kerem Kınık, a globe-trotting doctor who has worked in conflict zones in the past, a delegation from the Turkish charity visited Syria's Idlib province in one of the few safe places in the war-torn country for the training and donation of protection kits.
The training on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) defense comes a week after the Assad regime dropped chemical bombs in Khan Sheikhoun that killed dozens of people. Images of children's bodies emerged in the aftermath of the attack prompting the United States to take action and strike the Syrian regime's air base where the planes bombing Khan Sheikhoun took off from.
Fifty protection kits were delivered to the White Helmets by Red Crescent officials who later trained them on how to use them while working in environments exposed to chemical attacks. The White Helmets, the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary, is a group of volunteer rescue workers who came together for the Syrian Civil Defense - the original name of the White Helmets - who have been hailed for accomplishing dangerous missions in conflict zones. Many of the group's members have been killed in airstrikes by the Assad regime but they have managed to reach out to many in bombed-out opposition strongholds where civilians were trapped.
Kerem Kınık said the training was essential as many caught in the middle of the chemical attack did not know what to do when a chemical attack happened. "Unfortunately, many people died because of this lack of knowledge and many working in the (Syrian) Civil Defense were affected by the poisonous gas during rescue work. We hope this training will make them safer if such an occassion arises again. We hope this vicious, savage attack that also constitutes a war crime will not be repeated but unfortunately, we have witnessed such sporadic attacks since the Gouta incident," he said, referring to the 2013 attack by the Assad regime that killed hundreds in opposition-controlled suburbs around Damascus. It was the first major chemical attack during the war and according to experts, the deadliest use of chemical weapons in recent memory. Kınık said Syrian rescue workers across the country need training and the Red Crescent was striving to reach out to them. He added they appreciated the White Helmets' work in the six years of the conflict and noted that the Red Crescent earlier donated three ambulances for the group recently.
Muhammad Hallaq, who heads the Idlib and Hama division of the White Helmets, said their members were vulnerable to the Khan Sheikhoun attack most and thanked Turkey for its assistance in working against chemical threats.