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Syria's White Helmets award Jo Cox with highest honour

Murdered British MP is given her own white helmet for advocacy of Syrian people as volunteer rescue group calls her 'a true friend'
Commemoration of life of murdered Labour MP Jo Cox on Wednesday (AFP)

Tributes were held around the world on Wednesday to commemorate Jo Cox, the British MP who was murdered last Thursday in her Yorkshire hometown of Batley.

Hundreds packed Trafalgar Square in London to hear emotional tributes to Cox and the causes she championed during her time as a humanitarian aid worker and member of parliament.

As part of the remembrance - which was to include speeches from members of her family and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai - the White Helmets, the Syrian volunteer rescue group, awarded Cox its highest honour in recognition of her work to protect civilians amid Syria's civil war.

“Jo Cox was a true friend to the White Helmets and someone who constantly advocated for the Syrian people," Farouq al-Habib, spokesperson for the White Helmets, told MEE.

"We always stress that the support we need is not just financial, it is political. Jo Cox put pressure on the UK government to politically commit to protect civilians in Syria and stop the indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Syria.”

Raed Saleh, head of the White Helmets and featured in the organisation's video about Cox, flew from Syria to present a symbolic "white helmet" to Cox's family in Trafalgar Square.

The award, normally reserved for volunteers who have lost their lives rescuing civilians in Syria, has never been given to a non-White Helmet.

During her short time in parliament, Cox repeatedly called on the UK government to use diplomatic and military pressure to stop the use of barrel bombs and other indiscriminate weapons against Syrian civilians.

She also put pressure on the government to lead international efforts to get aid to more than a million Syrians who are besieged in the country.

"If we could do it for the starving in besieged Srebrenica and again for the besieged Yazidis in northern Iraq, there should be no reason it cannot be done for those suffering and dying in besieged Madaya," she co-wrote, along with former Liberal Democrats leader Paddy Ashdown, in a Telegraph opinion piece in January. "There is no time to waste."

The White Helmets are one of three causes that Cox's friends and family have featured on a crowdfunding page that has raised more than £1.2m since last Friday.

The money raised will go towards a "hero fund," which supports injured members of the White Helmets and the families of 120 members who have been killed so far.

Since its formation in 2013, the White Helmets have grown to about 3,000 volunteers across Syria, providing basic public services including electricity, fire-fighting and building repairs to a population of 7 million civilians.