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Assad offered amnesty for Aleppo rebels

Assad offered amnesty for Aleppo rebelsRebels holed up in Aleppo can leave with their families if they lay down their arms, Reuters reported, citing President Bashar al-Assad words on Thursday.

The offer of amnesty follows two weeks of the heaviest bombardment of the five-and-a-half-year civil war, which has killed hundreds of people trapped inside Aleppo's rebel-held eastern sector and torpedoed a U.S.-backed peace initiative.

Fighters have accepted similar government amnesty offers in other besieged areas in recent months, notably in Daraya, a suburb of Damascus that was under siege for years until rebels surrendered it in August.

However, rebels said they had no plan to evacuate Aleppo, the last major urban area they control, and denounced the amnesty offer as a deception.

"It's impossible for the rebel groups to leave Aleppo because this would be a trick by the regime. Aleppo is not like other areas, it's not possible for them to surrender," Zakaria Malahifji, a Turkey-based official for the Fastaqim group which is present in Aleppo, told Reuters.

Washington was also skeptical of government motives: "For them to suggest that somehow they're now looking out for the interests of civilians is outrageous," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, citing the heavy civilian toll from air strikes and bombardment.

The army announced a reduction in shelling and air strikes on Wednesday to allow people to leave. It backed that up with an ultimatum: "All those who do not take advantage of the provided opportunity to lay down their arms or to leave will face their inevitable fate."

The government also sent text messages to the mobile phones of some of those people trapped in the besieged sector, telling them to repudiate fighters in their midst. More than 250,000 people are believed to be trapped inside rebel-held eastern Aleppo, facing dire shortages of food and medicine.

Speaking to Danish television, Assad said he would "continue the fight with the rebels until they leave Aleppo. They have to. There's no other option."

He said that he wanted rebels to accept a deal to leave the city along with their families and travel to other rebel-held areas, as in Daraya. Neither Assad nor his generals gave a timeline for rebels to accept their offer.
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