As President Trump readies for his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the fate of the all-volunteer rescue organization known as the White Helmets operating in parts of rebel-held Syria could become a talking point as Western allies weigh evacuating the group amid rising threats.
As first reported by CBS News, the topic of how to extract the emergency workers was raised with President Trump at the NATO Summit last week. Allies including the Netherlands, U.K., France, Canada and Germany are seeking to find a way to rescue an estimated 1,000 volunteers and their family members from the country’s southwest as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces reclaim more teritory.
“We are concerned about the humanitarian situation in the southwest since the Syrian regime and Russia violated the ceasefire,” National Security Council spokesperson Garrett Marquis said in a statement to CBS News. “This includes the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the fighting. Among them are many who fear regime reprisals, including specific groups, such as the White Helmets. We are pushing for Russia and the regime to allow international aid convoys to deliver badly needed assistance to the civilians in the Southwest.”
The plan to evacuate the rescue workers, formally known as the Syrian Civil Defense group, was also confirmed by diplomatic sources to CNN.
Emergency talks were reportedly triggered as Assad’s forces move in on territory that was once agreed to be a U.S.-protected safe zone by Putin and Trump. The well-being of the White Helmets is of increasing concern as the governments of Syria and the Russia regard the group as terrorists — a claim denied by the group and by the West.
“They are promising no retribution on anyone in the southwest but nobody trusts or believes that,” said a senior U.S. official, according to CBS News.
The White Helmets say they have saved more than 114,000 lives throughout Syria’s seven-year civil war.
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