Beirut: The head of Syria’s White Helmets on Friday congratulated Colombia’s president on winning the Nobel Peace Prize, which the rescue force had been widely tipped to receive themselves.
A White Helmet volunteer, meanwhile, was killed while responding to a bombing in south Syria just after the Nobel winner was announced earlier Friday, the group said.
“Mahmoud al-Muhammad killed today in Daraa after responding to bombing of civilians leaving Friday prayers,” the group said on Twitter.
White Helmets chief Raed Saleh told AFP that his group had been hoping to receive the prize, which went instead to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos for his efforts to end Latin America’s longest conflict.
Congratulations to the people and President of Columbia. We sincerely wish them peace. @NobelPrize
— The White Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef) October 7, 2016
“We congratulate the winner on the prize and hope for peace for all of Colombia’s people,” Saleh said by phone from Turkey.
“For us, saving a life remains the most important prize that we could receive,” Saleh said.
“This success makes us richer than any other prize.”
Named after their protective headgear, the White Helmets rescue force operates in opposition-held territory in war-ravaged Syria.
The nearly 3,000-strong volunteer group has shot to prominence via footage of daring, and often heart-rending, rescue missions.
Saleh said Colombia’s success “gives us hope that it’ll be our turn in the future” for peace in Syria, where more than 300,000 people have died since the conflict broke out in 2011.
“We wish we had gotten the prize, because it would have been a huge push to all rescue workers,” Saleh said, adding that his group was “glad” to have received so much international support.
The group was the subject of a Netflix short documentary and its nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize had attracted support from a slew of celebrities.
In late September, the White Helmets won a Swedish human rights prize often referred to an “alternative Nobel” with the jury hailing their “outstanding bravery, compassion and humanitarian engagement”.