The US and its allies have ramped up plans to evacuate hundreds of members of the White Helmets and their families from southern Syria's Quneitra governorate as Syrian forces continue to clear the area from anti-government forces, US officials have told the AP.
Two anonymous US officials said to be familiar with the evacuation plans noted that the US and its British and Canadian allies were leading the operation to evacuate members of the NGO out of Syria to neighboring countries, and then on to Western European countries including the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and possibly Canada.
The officials and a member of the group AP reached for comment said the operation was likely to happen soon due to the Syrian military's continued push to expel militants from southern Syria. "These are hard hours and minutes. This is the worst day of my life. I hope they rescue us before it is too late," the White Helmets member said.
The US temporarily froze $200 million in funding for so-called 'stabilization programs' involving Syria earlier this year amid President Trump's talk of withdrawing from Syria once Daesh (ISIS/ISIL)* was defeated, but went ahead with the release of $6.6 million for the White Helmets last month. Damascus issued a scathing criticism of the US decision, accusing Washington and its allies of supporting a group which serves as a "blatant embodiment of US, French, British and other states' support for various kinds of terrorism witnessed in Syria since 2011."
Earlier, military sources speaking to Sputnik Arabic warned that their monitoring of the group led them to conclude that they may be preparing a new false flag chemical attack amid the Syrian army's advance.
The White Helmets are a self-described rescue organization founded by former British Army officer James Le Mesurier in 2014, and officially tasked with saving civilian lives in militant-controlled areas of Syria. Damascus and Moscow accuse the group of being a propaganda arm for the Nusra Front terror group**, and have provided extensive evidence and witness testimony of the group's propensity for staging fake attacks. In April, the US, France and Britain launched missile strikes against multiple targets around Syria, justifying them using 'video evidence' of an alleged chemical attack in Douma provided by the White Helmets. Subsequent investigations have shown that the video was a fake.
*A terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.
**A terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries. Also known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. Also described as al-Qaeda's Syrian branch.