Scepticism over Aleppo offer

By Roland Oliphant, Josie Ensor

Residents and rebels say they don’t trust regime’s talk of amnesty and safe passage out of city.
A man carries a child after airstrikes hit Aleppo in Syria. Photo / AP
A man carries a child after airstrikes hit Aleppo in Syria. Photo / AP

An offer of amnesty by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been met with scepticism by rebel fighters and residents.

Civilians and unarmed rebels will be allowed to leave Aleppo through humanitarian corridors, the Syrian Government and its Russian backers said on Thursday as they closed in on one of the most important cities in the war.

Leaflets were airdropped over Aleppo declaring that three routes out of the city would allow safe passage for civilians. A fourth would be opened for "armed militants", whom they said would be granted amnesty.

"In keeping with the Russian President's instructions, it is planned, along with the Syrian Government, to start a major humanitarian operation to provide assistance to Aleppo's civilian population," Sergei Shoigu, the Russian Defence Minister, said.

Government forces supported by Russian warplanes cut off all roads out of the opposition-held eastern side of Syria's second city 11 days ago, effectively trapping the remaining 250,000-300,000 still living there.

Residents said there had been nothing to eat but rice for a week and that supplies would run out mid-August.

Offers of safe passage are often made in the closing stages of a siege in order to reduce the number of civilians and enemy fighters ahead of an assault.

The announcement was met with deep scepticism from rebels and residents, and there was no immediate sign of people massing to leave.

Activists who visited the areas where there were said to be safe routes out yesterday said they appeared to still be closed. One report, which could not be immediately verified, claimed a man was shot by a sniper as he tried to cross through one of the passages earmarked as safe.

Dr Fatima Mohamad, an obstetrician at the Omar bin Abdulaziz hospital in Aleppo, said most residents were too afraid to leave. "All these passages out are going to the Syrian Government," she said. "The revolutionaries can't go there, we'd prefer to die rather than go to the bloody regime. If we leave it is death or jail, or death in jail."

Those remaining in the city have stayed for the past four years despite heavy bombardment and fierce fighting.

Delegates from the United States and Russia were set to meet in Geneva to discuss the plan for Aleppo. The two powers have already agreed on a pact to work together to strike at extremist groups al-Nusra Front and Isis (Islamic State) in Syria.

Pokemon Go images highlight Syrians' plight

Khaled Akil hopes his images, which place Pokemon Go characters in real war scenes, draw attention to the suffering of Syrians.
Khaled Akil hopes his images, which place Pokemon Go characters in real war scenes, draw attention to the suffering of Syrians.

A sad-eyed Pikachu Pokemon Go character sits amidst the rubble on a Syrian street, while a Charizard dragon from the smash hit game is perched alongside gun-toting jihadists.

The striking montages are the work of Syrian Khaled Akil, who is one of several activists and artists using the international frenzy over Pokemon Go to draw new attention to the plight of their battle-scarred country.

In the images posted on Akil's website, characters from the wildly popular smartphone app are placed into news photographs of scenes from the conflict in Syria, which is now in its sixth year and has killed more than 280,000 people.

One image depicts a smartphone in front of a rubber dinghy of refugees at sea, with the user trying to capture a life ring.

"I hope that the message behind these images reaches the whole world and that Syrians will be safe everywhere and always," Tahhan wrote on his Facebook page.

Syrian opposition activists have also sought to harness the frenzy over the game, posting a series of images online this week showing children holding posters of individual characters.

"I am in Kafr Nabal in Idlib province, come and save me," reads the text underneath a Pikachu on a poster held by a young boy.

Kafr Nabal is a rebel-held town in northwestern Idlib province.

Towns across the province are regularly bombarded by the Syrian Government and its Russian ally, with more than 20 civilians reported dead in raids in Idlib yesterday alone.

Other images in the series created by the Syrian Revolutionary Forces activist group show children in the rebel-held towns of Kafr Zita and Kafr Nabuda in central Hama province.

And an additional montage depicts a giant Pikachu in tears, seated next to a child in the ruins of a devastated building.

"I am from Syria, come to save me!," the picture is captioned, with the hashtag #PrayForSyria.

- Telegraph Group Ltd, AFP

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