31 Jul 2016

Civilians leave Aleppo - Syrian state media

10:26 am on 31 July 2016

More than 150 people, mostly women and children, have left besieged parts of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo through a safety zone set up by the government, state media report.

Only a few residents of Syria's Aleppo were able to leave through humanitarian corridors before rebels prevented them from fleeing, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Karaj al-Hajz corridor in rebel-held Aleppo leads towards the government controlled area of Masharqa. Photo: AFP

Syrian state television showed groups of people, mostly women, gathered in a government-controlled area of the city.

They said conditions in rebel-held areas were difficult and chanting praise for the Syrian President, Bashar al Assad.

Russia's defence ministry said 169 civilians had left through three safety crossings in the past few days. The ministry also said in a statement that 69 rebels had handed themselves in to the army.

Russia, an ally of the Syrian government, announced on Thursday that four exit corridors would be opened in Aleppo for civilians and rebels. The besieged area was bombarded with leaflets telling fighters to surrender and civilians to leave.

"This morning dozens of families left via the corridors identified... to allow the exit of citizens besieged by terrorist groups in the eastern neighbourhoods," Syrian state news agency Sana reported.

It showed pictures of people, mostly women and children, walking past soldiers and getting onto buses. It said they were taken to temporary shelters but gave no details.

The civilians boarded buses and were taken to temporary shelters, Sana said.

The report also said some fighters had surrendered to the authorities. Mr Assad has offered an amnesty for rebels surrendering within three months

A Russian army spokesperson said 85 civilians and 29 fighters had left via the corridors on Friday and 52 civilians and 24 fighters on Saturday.

Lt-Gen Sergei Chvarkov told the Russian state news channel Rossiya 24 that four more corridors would be opened up.

He also said that six temporary shelters had been set up to accommodate at least 3000 people.

The move was welcomed cautiously by the United Nations, the United States and some aid agencies.

But the UN has raised misgivings about the plan and US officials have suggested it may be an attempt to depopulate the city - the most important opposition stronghold in the country - so the army can seize it.

The UN envoy to Syria has said the corridors should be administered by the UN and that there should be a 48-hour ceasefire to allow people to leave safely.

Staffan de Mistura said the UN supported the humanitarian corridors in principle but it wanted Russia to provide more details on how they would work.

"Our suggestion to Russia is to actually leave the corridors being established at their initiative to us," Mr de Mistura told reporters in Geneva.

"The UN and humanitarian partners know what to do."

US Secretary of State John Kerry said that if the operation was "a ruse" it could disrupt US-Russian co-operation in Syria.

"On the other hand, if we're able to work it out and have a complete understanding of what is happening and then agreement on (the) way forward, it could actually open up some possibilities," he said.

Civilians return to the neighbourhood of Bani Zeid in Aleppo, a day after Syrian government forces took control of the previously rebel-held district.

Civilians return to the neighbourhood of Bani Zeid in Aleppo, a day after Syrian government forces took control of the previously rebel-held district. Photo: AFP

Food supplies running out

About 300,000 people are trapped in rebel-held eastern Aleppo and the UN says food supplies are expected to run out in mid-August.

UK-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said that "a number" of civilians had left eastern Aleppo through a passage in the Salaheddin neighbourhood.

Some reports have said rebel groups were preventing civilians from leaving.

The Syrian opposition, however, said the corridors were a government ploy to recapture all of Aleppo, calling it a euphemism for forced displacement of the inhabitants, which it said would be a war crime.

"These corridors are not for getting aid in, but driving people out," said Basma Kodmani of the opposition High Negotiations Committee. "The brutal message to our people is: leave or starve."

Rebels have been in control of much of eastern Aleppo since July 2012 but the Syrian army, backed by pro-government militia and Syrian and Russian jets, has recently driven them back.

The government recently seized the northern suburb of Bani Zeid after fierce fighting.

-BBC, Reuters

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