Several NATO countries have discussed the possibility of evacuating the White Helmets from Syria, specifically from Daraa province, with US President Donald Trump, CBS News reported, citing an anonymous US official. According to the media outlet, western countries are afraid that Damascus could "assassinate" the NGO's members as it advances through Daraa province.
"They are promising no retribution on anyone in the southwest but nobody trusts or believes that," the source told CBS.
The US official noted that the plan to pull the White Helmets out of Syria is a part of a general US withdrawal plan, earlier announced by Trump, who wants to reduce the country's presence in the Syrian Arab Republic and let other countries deal with the problem. The source also added that Washington has practically admitted that Damascus will eventually regain control over the whole of Syria by evacuating its forces and NGO members.
The media source points out that most of the talks on the topic took place on the sidelines of NATO summit on July 11-12 in Brussels, but the issue might also be raised by Trump during his negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 16.
The anonymous western diplomat explained to CBS that western allies are studying how the White Helmets could possibly be extracted hastily and that their options are limited in this regard. Thus, in the event they fail to find a solution in time, they might be forced to try and ask Putin for help, although they have little hope of that, since Moscow cooperates with Damascus.
"We are not there yet at all in terms of firming up the necessity to have a discussion with Putin […] If we run out of options, and the only option left is the Russians, then it is worth pursuing," he said.
Another problem for western countries is where to move all those White Helmets and their families. According to the media source, Trump refused to harbor the members of the notorious NGO in the US and allies are being forced to study other options.
The White Helmets have on numerous occasions been spotted working with al-Nusra Front* and other militant groups in Syria. The group, founded in Turkey by former MI5 officer James Le Mesurier and funded by several western countries, claims that it is saving the lives of ordinary citizens and reports chemical attacks allegedly conducted by Damascus. However, the Russian Defense Ministry has uncovered evidence and found witnesses suggesting that one of their latest reports of an alleged chemical attack in Douma was fake.
Washington temporarily halted State Department funding for the White Helmets in May 2018, but later in June announced that it would resume payments.
The US has been conducting airstrikes in Syria and supporting certain militant groups, which it calls "moderate opposition," since 2014, claiming to be fighting against Daesh* and other terrorist groups.
Washington and the coalition of western countries led by it are operating on Syrian soil without authorization by the country's government or the UN Security Council and according to the coalition's own data the US air raids have already led to the deaths of 939 civilians, although independent NGOs have calculated a far higher death rate — at least 9,600 people.
*Daesh (also known as ISIS/ISIL/IS) and Jabhat al-Nusra (also known as Tahrir al-Sham) are terrorist organizations banned in Russia