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Syrian State Media Says 169 Aleppo Civilians Used 'Safe Corridor'

Syria state media says a total of 169 civilians, mostly women over the age of 40, have left besieged eastern parts of Aleppo through a "safe corridor" that Moscow and Damascus say they have set up to evacuate people from opposition-held parts of the city.

But opposition forces in Aleppo rejected the reports as propaganda, with some saying that at least three of the four supposed crossing points out of rebel-held neighborhoods were not open on July 30.

There are an estimated 250,000 civilians trapped inside the rebel-held sector of Aleppo -- suggesting that even if the corridors were functioning, the vast majority of civilians were staying away to face food shortages and continued fighting than trust the offer from Moscow and Damascus.

The Syrian state media reports said some armed opposition fighters also passed through the corridors and surrendered to Syrian government troops to accept what Damascus says is an amnesty.

Footage in the state media reports did not show people at the actual crossing points, making it difficult to verify the state media's claims independently.

U.S. officials and Syrian rebel groups have suggested Russia's and Syria's creation of so-called "safe corridors" may be part of a plan to depopulate the city so that the Syrian Army, which has surrounded and besieged the city, can seize it.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry suggested on July 29 that the Russian operation might be a "ruse," and if it was, that would destroy his ongoing efforts to negotiate a cease-fire and path toward Syrian peace with Russia in his last months in office.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov denied that Russia and Syria were preparing to storm eastern Aleppo after clearing civilians out of the city under the guise of a humanitarian operation.

But Bassma Kodmani, a member of the High Negotiations Committee representing Syria's main opposition, said, "The world must not allow Russia to get away with disguising its assault on Aleppo with deceitful talk about humanitarian 'corridors.'"

Ahmad Ramadan from the opposition Syrian National Coalition said Aleppo residents "are calling the corridors that Russia is talking about 'death corridors,'" which is why they have not taken up the invitation to use them.

The U.S. State Department has expressed concerns that the initiative by Moscow and Damascus may be a demand for the surrender of militant groups and the forced evacuation of civilians from the besieged city.

Meanwhile, the United Nation's humanitarian aid chief, Stephen O'Brien, said the so-called "humanitarian corridors" proposed by Russia must be used voluntarily and that the protection of civilians must be guaranteed.

The UN also says that any voluntary evacuation plan should be monitored by the United Nations, not one of the warring factions.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has stressed that the vast majority of civilians who decide to stay in opposition-controlled parts of eastern Aleppo must also be protected, and that all sides in the conflict must allow humanitarian aid agencies access to those civilians in order to assess their needs.

Rights watchdog groups have warned the Syrian government that opening safe passages to civilians trapped in Aleppo does not give Syrian and Russian forces carte blanche to further blockade the opposition-controlled territory or target it with indiscriminate fire.

Nadim Houry, the deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said the safe passage offer "doesn't mean that the people who stay behind are legitimate military targets."

With reporting from Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, TASS, and Interfax
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