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Desperate Syrian Civilians Eager To Evacuate Eastern Aleppo


All this morning we're following developments in the Syrian city of Aleppo. We're hearing conflicting reports, including word that the latest cease-fire has been broken and evacuation of civilians has been halted. For the latest, let's go to NPR's Alison Meuse in Beirut. Alison, things are in flux to say the least. What can you tell us about the latest situation on the ground in Aleppo?

ALISON MEUSE: Well, Rachel, in the past 24 hours, we've gone from fears that this last rebel-held enclave, with the tens of thousands of civilians still trapped inside, was going to be retaken by force. And all signs pointed to that. President Assad said the time for truces in Aleppo was over. There were many pleas for help from inside the siege that caught the world's attention - regular families who feared they'd get killed and, of course, activists who'd been speaking out for years against the regime and feared repercussions.

Yesterday, Russia said a deal had been reached with the rebels to make this evacuation happen. But there are many parties to this conflict, and things seem to have stalled on the ground. Opposition activists say a pro-regime militia has been blocking the buses with its own demands for evacuations from rebel-imposed sieges.

MARTIN: You can imagine it must be impossible for people who are actually there to get information about whether it's safe to leave or not. What do you know about the conditions for people who are still in the eastern part of the city?

MEUSE: Well, NPR spoke this morning to Abdulkafi al-Hamdo. He's an opposition activist and an English teacher who's still there in the besieged districts with his wife and small daughter. He described what life has been like in the city in the past few days.

ABDULKAFI AL-HAMDO: It was a hell. It's been worse than hell, shelling, and you can just see bodies on the streets. You can hear their voices, their crying, just to find someone help. They gave us two choices only - live or die. You leave your friends. You leave your house. You leave your history.

MEUSE: You leave your house; you leave your history, he says.

MARTIN: So obviously such difficult decisions people are having to make about whether to leave or stay and if it's safe or not. What is likely to happen to people just in the short term?

MEUSE: Well, everyone, for now, seems to just be waiting. They're all in this very small area and basically waiting on the news just as we are. And they're leaving their homes. They're trying to pack what little they can take with them. And they know they might never come back. So that's what they're preparing for. And we're still waiting to see if this deal can indeed go through and save lives.

MARTIN: NPR's Allison Meuse, speaking to us from Beirut about the situation in eastern Aleppo. Thanks, Alison.

MEUSE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.