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Evacuations To Resume In Aleppo

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The evacuation of Aleppo has been on again and off again, but the suffering and death continue. The city has suffered gravely during its four-year siege before the eyes of the world. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights says the regime of Bashar al-Assad has most likely committed war crimes by bombing civilians as they wait to be evacuated from Aleppo. Nabih Bulos of the Los Angeles Times is in Aleppo. Thanks so much for being with us.

NABIH BULOS: Not at all. My pleasure.

SIMON: Is there any news to report on evacuations?

BULOS: Well, yet again, confusion is what really reigns here at this point. I mean, we've heard from several sources, you know, from the government that the agreement is essentially back on, though we've seen no official confirmation from the actual state news operator, which is named SANA. And of course, the rebels have said that it is back on as well.

Now, what we have heard from several pro-government people is that buses have already moved towards a pair of Shiite-dominated towns called Fu'ah and Kafraya. And they're about, I think, 30 miles southwest of Aleppo, roughly speaking. And there, you have about 20,000 people who are besieged, and the idea now is that they will also be evacuated along with the people of Aleppo.

SIMON: I have to ask, given the history of what we've seen, evacuations in Bosnia and Rwanda, is there any concern on behalf of people in Aleppo about where evacuees are going to be taken and what's going to happen to them?

BULOS: Well, the evacuees who have decided to leave Aleppo, right, and did not want to stay in government-held areas, they'll be going to this province which is called Idlib, which neighbors Aleppo. And that one is under the sway of the opposition. So in that sense, they would be safe from any kind of retribution they expect to get from the Syrian government.

With that being said, there are thousands of people - tens of thousands, in fact - who have now made their way to government-held areas and are staying in government refugee centers. And in fact, just today I was in a neighborhood of east Aleppo that was recently retaken by the government, and there you see also the World Food Programme handing out parcels of food. You have different charity organizations giving water, lentil soup, et cetera. So, I mean, there is a sense of some kind of assistance coming in, even for those people who remain in government-held areas.

SIMON: I have to ask you an overall strategic question. Now that the Syrian government has taken back effective control of certainly, I don't know, what, eight-ninths of Aleppo, something like that, is the uprising over? Is this the end of the Syrian civil war?

BULOS: No, by no measure is it over. I mean, just yesterday you had a suicide bombing in a police station. And the fact is that the country is still dominated - I mean, we have wide swaths of the country that are still controlled by either the Islamic State or by the different opposition forces. The problem is, finally, that you need to reimpose control over a huge, huge area. And I mean, it would also include the open desert. It also includes mountainous areas, and, of course, it requires the cooperation of neighboring countries, such as Turkey and Jordan.

And this is not a guaranteed (inaudible). I mean, it's not guaranteed by the (inaudible) this point. So the fact of the matter is it's unclear, I think. And it was clear to me that the war has not ended, of course. And it's still not clear if even Aleppo is over. I mean, yes, maybe now Aleppo is now over, but in the future, who knows? You still have rebels, I mean, quite a few rebels, not so far away in the province. And if they receive weapons and assistance from Turkey, it's possible this can be turned around. I think what's clear is that the Syrian civil war has taught us that we can never really, you know, decide on anything or, I have to say, you know, assume anything.

SIMON: Nabih Bulos of the Los Angeles Times, thanks so much, sir.

BULOS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.