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BREAKING NEWS:

Seven rescue workers killed in jihadist-held Syria town

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Rescue workers of Syria's White Helmets bury colleagues killed in a dawn raid on their base in the jihadist-held northwestern town of Sarmin, on Saturday.

AFP, Beirut :
Unidentified assailants shot dead seven members of Syria's White Helmets rescue service early Saturday during a raid on their base in a jihadist-held northwestern town, the group said.
The attackers struck in the town of Sarmin, nine kilometres (six miles) east of the city of Idlib, that is controlled by the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham jihadist alliance.
"The civil defence centre in Sarmin was the target of an armed attack by unknown assailants in which seven volunteers were killed," the White Helmets said in statement.
"Two minibuses, some white helmets and walkie-talkies were stolen."
It was not immediately clear whether the motives for the raid were political or purely criminal.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the seven volunteers had all been killed by bullets to the head.
"Colleagues came in the morning for the change of shift and found them dead," its director, Rami Abdel Rahman, told AFP.
The White Helmets emerged in 2013, working to rescue civilians in rebel-held areas. They have since gained international renown for their daring rescues, often filmed and circulated on social media, and were nominated for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize.
Although they work exclusively in rebel-held areas, they insist they are non-partisan.
Their detractors, including President Bashar al-Assad's government and his ally Russia, accuse them of being tools of their international donors.
They receive funding from a number of Western governments, including Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States.
Meanwhile, more than 600,000 Syrians returned to their homes in the first seven months of this year, nearly as many as in all of 2016, but they are still outnumbered by those freshly displaced, the U.N. migration agency said on Friday.
Many went back to their areas of origin to check on property or because they had been in places where the economic and other conditions were deteriorating, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.
"The returns are not confirmed as voluntary, safe or sustainable," IOM spokeswoman Olivia Headon told a briefing.
About 67 percent of the returns this year have been to Aleppo province - where the rebel-held eastern part of the city was retaken by the Syrian government in December - IOM said.
Most of the 602,759 Syrians who returned to their homes between January and July had been uprooted within their war-torn homeland, with the other 16 percent returning from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, Headon said.
The number nearly matched the 685,662 people who returned during all of 2016, she said.
But an estimated 808,661 people have been newly displaced this year, "many for the second or third time," she said.
In all, more than 6 million people currently remain displaced within Syria.
Critics also accuse them of harbouring rebel fighters, including jihadists, in their ranks.

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