Syrian Government Agrees To Temporary Cease-Fire

The Syrian government has announced it will cease military operations for four days beginning tomorrow, to mark the beginning of Eid al-Adha. The Feast of Sacrifice is one of the holiest events on the Muslim calendar. The reaction from Syria's rebel forces has been mixed, with some commanders saying they will honor the truce but others insisting they won't. International envoy Lakhdar Brahimi proposed the ceasefire in hopes it would lead to negotiations on the political solution to the 19-month old conflict. As the truce was announced, heavy fighting continued in several areas, especially in Syria's largest city, Aleppo.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. And we begin this hour with news from inside Syria. The Syrian government has announced it will cease military operations tomorrow for four days, to mark the beginning of Eid al-Adha. It's one of the holiest events on the Muslim calendar. Reaction has been mixed among Syria's rebels and as the truce was announced, heavy fighting continued in several areas.

Earlier today, NPR's Kelly McEvers was in Aleppo, a front line in the conflict that has raged for 19 months. She joins me now from the safety of Turkey, in a town along its border with Syria. And Kelly, what did you see in Aleppo today?

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: Well, it depends on where you were in Aleppo. I mean, there were parts of the city today that were, you know, almost completely normal. People were out shopping. It's a big holiday weekend. There was - you know, produce stands were busy. Barbershops were busy.

And this was in the rebel-held areas that are - you know, do frequently come under attack. There were people waiting in breadlines. Those have also come under attack in recent weeks, and yet people seem to feel confident.

That said, in other areas, there was still kind of the same kind of fighting that we've seen now for months in Aleppo, neighborhoods that were being repeatedly shelled. We were in one particular area where we heard a handful of shells land in as many minutes.

Rebels also pushed into another neighborhood in Aleppo, kind of pushing toward the center of the city, toward the parts of the city that the government troops hold, trying to take new territory. By some accounts, they were not successful in doing that, but there were clashes, and we did see families, you know, fleeing the city.

CORNISH: Kelly, you mentioned that this is a major holiday for Muslims. I mean, how are the people who are remaining going to prepare for it?

MCEVERS: You know, in some places, people were saying to us, crowding around us and saying, there will be no Eid in Aleppo. Eid al-Adha is the name of the holiday, the Feast of the Sacrifice. And then other people were saying, no, we're - darn it, we're going to go out, and we're going to celebrate this holiday.

We're going to buy new clothes for our kids, and we're going to buy these sweets, and we're going to get our hair cut, and we're going to try to celebrate. We talked to one guy who sells the sheep for slaughter, and he said his sales this year are at about 25 percent. That gives you an idea.

CORNISH: Now the battle for Aleppo has been called the decisive battle for Syria. What's your sense of the fight for Aleppo now that it's more than three months old?

MCEVERS: You know, a lot of people call it a stalemate. I definitely think it hasn't moved a lot in three months. I mean, if you talk to rebels, at least, in the rebel-held territory where I was, you realize that over the course of months, they've literally moved blocks, let's say, in some places. They've just taken little bits of territory over what seems like a long amount of time.

What they do have and what they claim they have in much bigger supply than the regime forces that they're battling is resolve that they just will not give up until they've taken all of Aleppo. They will then somehow topple the regime of Syria.

That doesn't seem like a really clear military strategy. So we've been talking to some of the rebel commanders to see if there's a more clear strategy. That's why it seems like a cease-fire is less likely. I mean, just as rebels think they're making advances, it's hard to imagine that they're just going to put their guns down.

CORNISH: So, Kelly, given what you've told us, what are the rebels saying about the prospects for a cease-fire?

MCEVERS: Again, it depends on what neighborhood you're in, and it depends on who you're talking to. You know, some rebels told us, we wouldn't mind a day or two of rest if the regime actually is serious about this cease-fire. But nobody really believes that the regime is going to do that, that it's going to keep its promise.

And then you talk to some other groups, and they say, well, we don't believe in the cease-fire at all. There's no way we're going to do this. Why would we lay down our guns and let the regime's snipers sneak into our neighborhoods and set up positions for when the cease-fire ends and they can attack us and attack civilians again? That's what we heard over and over across the city as well.

CORNISH: And, lastly, there's been several reports that parts of Aleppo's old city have been destroyed in recent weeks. Were you able to reach it?

MCEVERS: We were. We weren't able to get all the way into the old city to the parts that were badly burned in recent weeks. Again, it depends on who you ask in terms of who's responsible for burning these old shops in this old bazaar called the souk.

You know, rebels, of course, say the government forces do it. I think government forces, at the time, accused the, quote, unquote, "terrorists" of doing it. That's what they call rebel groups. What we do know is that this UNESCO World Heritage site that is centuries old, parts of it date back to the 12th century, are in shambles. You know, this is a city that was a major tourist attraction here in the Middle East. And to see something like this old city with its labyrinth and, you know, alleyways and cobblestone streets and wooden balconies and ancient vaulted ceilings, you know, to see that just in shambles, the shops, looted garbage everywhere and everything shuttered up was a real shame.

CORNISH: NPR's Kelly McEvers. Kelly, thank you.

MCEVERS: You're welcome.

CORNISH: Kelly was in Aleppo, Syria, earlier today and joined us from the Turkish side of the Turkey-Syria border.

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