US and allies are discussing evacuating rescue group from Syria

A young Syrian stands looking at the rubble of a collapsed building as rescuers look for victims the following a reported air strike on the rebel-held neighbourhood of Sakhur in the northern city of Aleppo on July 19, 2016. Civilians in rebel-held parts of Syria's Aleppo expressed fears on July 18, 2016 of a lengthy government siege, as food supplies dwindled after regime troops seized the only road into the city's east. The government advance, which has been backed by a Russian air offensive, is seen as a major setback for opposition forces in Syria's second city. / AFP / THAER MOHAMMED (THAER MOHAMMED/AFP/Getty Images)

CNN — As the Syrian government recaptures increasing amounts of territory in the southwest and other regions of the country, Western allies have grown increasingly concerned about the safety of a group of unarmed volunteer rescue workers known as the White Helmets.

The fate of some 1,000 volunteers and their family members, and the need to plan a possible evacuation for them, has become a focus of discussions of several countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, France and Canada, according to a diplomatic source familiar with the subject and two administration officials.

In the plans under discussion, the volunteer rescue workers, who are officially named the Syrian Civil Defense, would be resettled in several countries; two diplomatic sources mentioned the possibility of resettling some of the group in Canada and the United Kingdom, while another two sources said Germany is expected to take some rescuers.

President Donald Trump discussed the possible need to evacuate members of the group during his meetings at the NATO summit last week, a source confirmed. There were several conversations between the US and UK about the issue during the summit, the source said, adding that Western delegations have convinced the US to help lobby both Israel and Jordan to find escape routes for besieged rescuers.

CBS News first reported the discussions about the possible evacuation plans.

Both the Syrian and the Russian governments have labeled the group terrorists, a designation that the international community and the rescuers themselves have rejected.

The safety of the White Helmets could be one of the topics Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discuss in their summit on Monday, the source confirmed, although there is some concern about whether Moscow can be trusted on the issue.

One administration official said asking Russia for help is a nonstarter because the Russians in the past month have been fueling the narrative that the White Helmets are terrorists and going after residents.

Western countries hope to find a way to help the group leave Syria without Russia’s aid, the diplomatic source said. They are looking at various possibilities for ground evacuation, but all of them are difficult and negotiations are at a sensitive stage, the source said.

Syria has recently mounted a military offensive in the country’s southwest, which is a major complicating factor.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.