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Syrian civilians begin leaving rebel-held parts of Aleppo

 
Fleeing women and children arrive in a street lined with damaged buildings in the government-held part of Aleppo.
Fleeing women and children arrive in a street lined with damaged buildings in the government-held part of Aleppo.
Published July 31, 2016

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Dozens of families and some opposition fighters started leaving besieged rebel-held neighborhoods in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on Saturday after the government opened safe corridors for civilians and fighters who want to leave, state media reported.

The government completely closed the main road into rebel-held areas of Aleppo on July 17, effectively besieging the 300,000 people living there.

Last week, Syrian President Bashar Assad offered an amnesty to rebels who lay down their arms and surrender to authorities in the next three months.

Opposition activists denied reports that Aleppo residents were leaving rebel-held neighborhoods of the city, saying that state media was attempting to falsely suggest that civilians were fleeing the area in large numbers.

Syrian TV footage appeared to show dozens of people leaving, a small proportion of the hundreds of thousands of people still living in besieged eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo.

About a dozen young men were shown on state TV surrendering to government forces. All had covered their faces, and most were carrying automatic rifles over their heads. As the men walked out of a building, Syrian government soldiers pointed their rifles at them.

State TV also showed dozens of women and children arriving in a street lined with heavily damaged buildings in the government-held part of Aleppo's Salaheddine neighborhood. State news agency SANA said the civilians later boarded buses and were taken to shelters set up by the government on the western side of Aleppo.

SANA said some fighters came forward to government forces in Salaheddine, where they handed over their weapons and surrendered to authorities. Usually surrendering fighters are questioned by government authorities and then sign a pledge promising not to take up arms against the Syrian state again.

State media said that large numbers of people were being prevented by militants from leaving rebel-held parts of the city.

The Russian military said 169 civilians have left Aleppo through the three safe corridors since they were set up, including 85 on Friday and 52 on Saturday. In addition, 69 fighters have left after laying down their arms, Lt. Gen. Sergei Chvarkov, who heads the Russian center for reconciliation located in Latakia military base, said in a statement.