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Despite Evacuations Underway, Thousands Remain Trapped In Aleppo


The images of eastern Aleppo this week have been devastating - children bundled in their winter jackets waiting with their families to escape the ruins of Syria's biggest city. Meanwhile, the warring parties negotiate a deal that could let them evacuate safely. Thousands of people have been able to leave. Thousands more are still trapped.

NPR's Alison Meuse has been covering the situation for us and joins us now from Beirut. And Alison, I know there's been a lot of change over the course of this week. But can you give us a sense of what has happened here in eastern Aleppo, at least the part of the city that's held by rebels?

ALISON MEUSE, BYLINE: Well, Aleppo has been at war since 2012 when rebels swept in and took control of these eastern districts. At various points in time, even as recently as this past summer, they threatened to take the whole city. But five months ago, President Bashar al-Assad vowed that Aleppo would be the graveyard of rebel ambitions, and that has come to pass in these past few weeks.

The rebels have suffered dramatic losses under a Russian and Iranian-backed offensive. And in just this past week and a half, we've really seen them get bottled up in one last enclave and force them into the situation where they've had to cut a deal where the fighters evacuate and many of the civilians do, too, and that is ongoing.

CORNISH: How does the Syrian government portray what's happening?

MEUSE: President Assad spoke to state media yesterday when the evacuation was underway and called it history in the making. And he views this as a liberation of a city that was a serious economic hub overtaken by rebels and by war, the economy kind of in ruins. So for him and his supporters, this is great news.

And don't forget that people in western Aleppo, they have also been suffering these past four years, certainly not under the devastating airstrikes that have leveled buildings on the eastern side but certainly suffered indiscriminate shelling attacks - daily shelling attacks that have killed thousands of civilians over the past four and a half years.

CORNISH: You mentioned speaking with people in the city. Is there a story that sticks out or sticks with you as you're seeing what's happening now?

MEUSE: Yes, there is. I was speaking to a humanitarian worker who's responding in some of these districts - front-line districts that have just been retaken by Syrian government forces and their allies. He found this little boy who had survived through the offensive, and he started following him around. And he was about maybe 10 years old, and he turned out to be an orphan. And he had survived all alone in the Old City of Aleppo these past four and half years, and he was delivering water to people because the taps have been off.

And, yeah, that sticks with you because it makes you think about all these people, not just under the bombs, not just displaced, but also the people whose lives have just been destroyed.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Alison Meuse in Beirut talking about the situation this week in Aleppo.

Alison, thank you.

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