New Cease-Fire Arranged For Aleppo But Will It Hold?
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
We are getting the closest thing to hopeful news this morning out of the Syrian city of Aleppo. Under a new cease-fire agreement, shelling and airstrikes have stopped for now. An evacuation of rebel fighters and civilians out of eastern Aleppo is now under way, though there have been reports of evacuees being fired on. NPR's Alison Meuse is monitoring this from Beirut. Alison, is this cease-fire - does it feel like it's for real?
ALISON MEUSE, BYLINE: Well, it has been holding since midnight our time until now. It's about mid-afternoon - largely holding, let's say. There haven't been air strikes or major clashes, but an activist on the ground in the siege told me that when people were gathering earlier this morning, there were some pro-government snipers that had fired into the crowds. And some people were wounded. But in the grand scheme of things and how horrible it's been, it looks like this deal is actually going forward. The Red Cross says that people have loaded onto buses. They have about 200 wounded cases that they really want to get out first. And humanitarian workers on the ground say those buses have indeed departed.
GREENE: Now, Alison, an important point here - I mean, the government has long said that people holing up in eastern Aleppo, they are supportive of terrorist groups. Now they're allowing these civilians to come out. Is there a guarantee that they're going to be taken to a safe place or where are they being taken?
MEUSE: Well, the government always says that, you know, the - there are indeed civilians and they say they're being used as human shields by rebels. We speak to civilians on the ground. Some have said they have faced difficulties leaving in recent weeks, but most of them had just wanted to stay in their homes. But they are in a position where the government is intent on retaking this last rebel enclave. And many of the people who are still there are activists, and they do not trust the government or the security apparatus, or they're young men who don't want to be drafted in the army. So they will go to rebel-held territory further north, which is not besieged but is certainly not safe. These areas have been exposed to regular air strikes by Assad and his ally, Russia.
GREENE: And you have to wonder - I mean, Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, he was actually quoted on Russian television saying that identifying which city comes next depends on which city contains the largest number of terrorists. I guess I wonder what he means by comes next, and is it possible that, you know, these civilians will be taken to a place that, you know, the government might just start bombarding more?
MEUSE: Well, exactly. This has been the strategy over the past year or so where areas that are retaken by the government often in which extreme force and siege tactics are used, those rebels and regular people who refuse to go on to - go over to the regime side, they take deals where they evacuate mainly to Idlib. And Idlib is dominated by some very hard-line rebel factions. And so for Assad's government officials, they say, oh, well, these people are going to where they want to be. It doesn't mean these people really want to be there, but they're now in a position where they're in an area that is dominated by groups that have been cooperating with al-Qaida. And it creates a situation where Assad's Western rivals will not be able to support them as easily.
GREENE: OK, speaking to NPR's Alison Meuse in Beirut. Alison, thanks.
MEUSE: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.