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Russia announces aid operation for Syria’s battered Aleppo

Syria ally Russia announced a “large-scale” aid operation on Thursday for trapped civilians and opposition fighters fleeing the embattled northern city of Aleppo, as President Bashar al-Assad offered an amnesty to rebels who surrender.

Pro-government forces effectively surround opposition neighbourhoods of the divided city, sparking fears for at least 200,000 people trapped there.

Residents have reported food shortages and spiralling prices in rebel districts since regime forces cut off the opposition’s main supply route into the city earlier this month.

Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu told reporters that three humanitarian corridors were being opened “to aid civilians held hostage by terrorists and for fighters wishing to lay down their arms” and one more corridor to the north of the city for rebels to flee with their weapons. Medical posts and food handouts would be provided along the routes intended for civilians and fighters who surrender, Shoigu said.

In a parallel move, Assad on Thursday issued a rare presidential decree offering amnesty to armed rebels who give themselves up in the next three months, the official SANA news agency reported.
“Everyone carrying arms... and sought by justice... is excluded from full punishment if they hand themselves in and lay down their weapons,” SANA said, adding the reprieve would also include any rebel who freed a hostage. State television announced “the opening of three passages to allow citizens out of eastern districts” of Aleppo, adding that “everything was ready to receive them in temporary installations”.

But an AFP correspondent who went to see one of the corridors said that it remained closed and saw no movement of residents nearby. Regime planes on Thursday dropped flyers showing a map with the location of these humanitarian passages, he said. Once an economic hub, Aleppo and surrounding countryside has suffered some of the worst fighting in the five-year conflict that has killed more than 280,000 people. 
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