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'Los Angeles Times' Reporter Describes Evacuations In Aleppo, Syria


We're going to hear now from Nabih Bulos of the Los Angeles Times, one of the few Western journalists to witness the emptying of eastern Aleppo. What he describes is a complicated sort of dance with all of the violence there, a kind of trade-off involving rebels leaving the part of the city they used to control and supporters of the Syrian government trying to escape places still controlled by rebels. At one point in the process, he says everyone ended up on an old bridge in buses.

NABIH BULOS: They would go into eastern Aleppo, pick up the rebels. And then they would move towards the center of the bridge. And then you would have this other convoy that was coming in, and it, too, would come to the center of the bridge. And so you had these two convoys of I guess enemies at this point just facing off each other with the Red Cross and some other aid workers in the middle.

SHAPIRO: Bulos told us via Skype from Damascus that from there, the buses left, taking rebels and loyalists across battle lines.

BULOS: I mean it's been a difficult, torturous process. But I just spoke to a rebel spokesman, and he told me that this deal is projected to end tonight.

SHAPIRO: And where will that leave the city of Aleppo - no longer divided between west and east, completely under government control? What's tomorrow like?

BULOS: Tomorrow will be I think a very long phase of rebuilding or the start of a very long phase of rebuilding. I mean eastern Aleppo has been pounded and pummeled for the last I guess four years now, almost five years. And so many of its areas are leveled to the ground.

But also more importantly, you have thousands of people who left the rebel-held areas and went to government-held areas themselves. And so they'll have to be reintegrated into that society. And I think the government will have to also try to secure areas outside of Aleppo.

I mean this battle is not done, right? Just because you have now this temporary end inside Aleppo city itself, it doesn't mean that the rebels cannot come back. Because really, if you think of it logically, the rebels are only a few miles outside Aleppo city. I mean the last point of government control where the rebels are going is a mere four miles to the west of the city's outskirts. That's a short distance, as you can imagine. And so who knows what's going to happen?

SHAPIRO: We've been hearing about the divided city of Aleppo where the west is controlled by the government and things are relatively intact. How dramatic is that difference? Can you describe what it looks like in the government-controlled part of the city?

BULOS: Well, I mean, it's not entirely intact, to be clear. I mean there are parts of the government-held areas that were hit pretty badly by shells and things of that nature. But of course, I mean the eastern part is quite a bit more damaged. I mean, when you go there and you walk through these ancient walkways and these ancient souqs, these khans, and you see them ruined by war, it's really quite an emotional experience.

And the fact of the matter is that I've been to other places where the war has touched this country, and Aleppo is - I mean if not the worst, it's certainly one of the worst that I've seen.

SHAPIRO: Just to conclude, can you tell us a story of one person who you met who stayed in the city through this long siege and then finally decided to leave at the very end?

BULOS: Well, I'm right now actually writing up a story about this one woman. She's quite old. And when the war started in Aleppo and it was divided, Zahold (ph) was in eastern Aleppo until it fell to the rebels. She stayed there. But her son, who was a government employee, stayed in the western side.

And I was fortunate enough to witness their moment of a reunion. It had been approximately I guess four and a half years since they had last seen each other. And she had of course stayed and then managed to survive. And then she went on one of the buses outside of eastern Aleppo, stopped and asked to be let off at a government checkpoint. And then she was taken to her son, who was waiting for her at this Ramouseh crossing.

And I mean it was very emotional. I mean you see this 80-year-old woman I mean just covered in dirt and soot, and she's crying. And her son just rushes to her and embraces her. I mean, it was - I have to say - a very, very emotional experience of course. But it's also indicative of how this war has really just decimated families and created all these new fault lines.

SHAPIRO: Nabih Bulos of the Los Angeles Times, thank you for speaking with us.

BULOS: (Unintelligible). Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.