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Syria And Russia Promise Safe Passage Out Of Aleppo, But Many Don't Trust It


And now to Syria. In a moment, we'll hear from an expert who argues that the U.S. has taken the lessons of the Iraq War too far and is paying the price in Syria. But first, a look at the dire situation in the divided city of Aleppo. Hundreds of thousands of people are under siege there surrounded by Syrian government forces.

Well, now Syria and its ally Russia have promised safe passage for civilians and fighters who are ready to leave the rebel-held side of the city. But many people are afraid to try the routes out of town that the government is offering. Some who did try have already turned back. NPR's Alison Meuse reports.

ALISON MEUSE, BYLINE: Aleppo resident Baraa al-Halabi woke up this morning to a surprising broadcast on state TV. The army that's been trading fire with local rebels who control this neighborhood for the past four years was offering civilians like him a way out. Government warplanes dropped leaflets telling people where to approach the frontline.

And Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reiterated an amnesty for rebels who turn themselves in. Al-Halabi, who runs an Internet cafe, says he figured it was all a big lie. But he decided to go check it out.

BARAA AL-HALABI: (Through interpreter) I went to the road they said to use to see what the situation was. And there was a mortar that landed very close to where people had gathered.

MEUSE: Speaking to me via WhatsApp, he says no one got hurt. There were only five families gathered. Because of the shelling, they all went back home.

AL-HALABI: (Through interpreter) We knew it was all just talk for the media and not a real humanitarian offer.

MEUSE: For many in the opposition, that assumption is no surprise. I reached Assaad al-Achi, whose organization, Baynta, supports anti-government activists in Aleppo from across the border in Turkey.

ASSAAD AL-ACHI: One thing that we've learned over the past five years is that you cannot trust the regime no matter what.

MEUSE: Al-Achi, a Syrian himself, lists several times there was supposed to be a humanitarian corridor and then it wound up being shelled by regime forces. But he says that many people he works with inside Aleppo are conflicted about what to do. They see the U.S., which has opposed the regime, and Russia, which backs it, now saying they're working closer together to fight extremists.

That makes people in the opposition worry support to their cause is petering out.

AL-ACHI: From one side, we don't want civilians to pay the price for something they might not necessarily have chosen.

MEUSE: The U.N. estimates 300,000 residents in opposition areas of Aleppo are now cut off by a tightening siege. Al-Achi says there are many poor people reliant on aid. And they have every right to leave if they want.

AL-ACHI: The other extreme would be, no, we should not leave. We will not allow the regime to crush this revolution, and we don't want to basically surrender. And we will find ways to survive.

MEUSE: Al-Achi says if that's what they choose, his organization and others will do everything they can to help, whether smuggling in supplies or pressuring the international community to break the siege. Opposition activists say many will refuse to go because the regime is only offering passage to areas it controls, not nearby opposition territory.

Human Rights Watch has already warned Syria and its ally Russia that offering a safe passage out now doesn't mean they get carte blanche to attack and starve those who stay. Alison Meuse, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.