Dozens of Syrian civilians have started exiting opposition-held areas of Aleppo to government territory through safe corridors. The crossings were the first major movement of people after Russia announced the passages.
After opening "humanitarian corridors" for residents in opposition-controlled areas of Aleppo, dozens of people crossed over to the government-held side, Syrian state media reported on Saturday.
Images on state television showed multiple civilians, mostly women and children, walking through the corridor. Syria's state news agency SANA said the residents later boarded buses and were transported to government-run shelters on the western side of Aleppo.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said that "a number" of civilians entered government territory on Saturday.
Russia's defense ministry said 169 residents so far were able to get out, adding that that four additional safe routes will be opened.
'Armed men' surrender
It was the first major movement of people in Aleppo since Russia's announcement on Thursday that safe passages would be opened for civilians and surrendering opposition fighters.
SANA reported that "armed men from eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo" turned themselves over to government troops, but did not provide further details.
A statement from Russia's defense ministry on Saturday said that 69 rebels have laid down arms while another 59 received medical treatment.
Syria's President Bashar Assad has offered amnesty to opposition fighters who surrender within the next three months.
Criticism of 'humanitarian corridor'
Government forces closed off the main road into rebel-held parts of Aleppo on July 17, blocking aid and raising fears of a humanitarian crisis for the estimated 250,000 who live in the area.
Due to the lack of aid, international agencies have warned that the residents risk starvation.
The UN voiced support for the humanitarian corridors, but UN's Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura urged that the international body take charge of the passages.
"Our suggestion to Russia is to actually leave the corridors being established at their initiative to us," he said.
"How can you expect people to want to walk through a corridor, thousands of them, while there is shelling, bombing, fighting?" added De Mistura.
Opposition activists regarded the government's humanitarian corridors with skepticism.
"Be clear - these 'corridors' are not for getting aid in, but driving people out," Basma Kodmani, a member of the opposition High Negotiations Commission, said on Friday.
"The brutal message to our people is: leave or starve."
Over 280,000 people have been killed in the war in Syria, which began five years ago.
rs/rc (AP, AFP, dpa)