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Syria Grants Rare But Scripted Glimpse To Western Journalists


Ahead of the Geneva talks, the Syrian government actually granted rare visas to a handful of Western journalists to enter Syria.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is one of those reporters. He's in the Syrian capital Damascus. I asked him what message the Syrian government is trying to convey.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN: What it seems to me they're trying to convey is that they're winning. I mean, they took us on a trip to Aleppo the other day. And everything about that was trying to show that they're in control. They took us around the entire Aleppo area. They showed us places that they'd recently won back just to show that they were the ones who were in control, who were taking the initiative. And that's just in the seam of this entire trip.

MCEVERS: That airport has been out of commission for a year. What was that flight like?

PLEITGEN: Oh, it was absolutely crazy. I mean, basically, they told us in the morning in Damascus that they were going to take us on an embed around the Damascus area. And then as we were on our way there, the bus all of a sudden took a turn and went to an airfield, a military airfield. They had an airplane waiting, which was a government jet, one of the oldest Russian planes that I've ever been on.

Then shortly before landing, they told us that we were actually flying to Aleppo and that we were the first commercial flight to land in Aleppo in more than a year. So we obviously didn't feel too great about that, having this sort of guinea pig role. And then we landed in Aleppo, and then you could see from the window that there was a live truck there. There were all sorts of Syrian television crews there.

At that point, we had become the news. They put this live out on Syrian TV that the first commercial flight had just landed in Aleppo. So that was - it was quite crazy. Yeah.

MCEVERS: And I saw your coverage. I mean, people - it looks like people applauded when the plane actually, you know, hit the ground.

PLEITGEN: Yeah. I mean, we certainly applauded. I think, though, the officials there were probably just as happy as us. And they just made a huge event out of the whole thing.

MCEVERS: Beyond just Aleppo, what can you say about the state of the war in Syria? I mean, does it seem like the government really does have the upper hand in the country?

PLEITGEN: I would say that it depends on which battlefield you're looking at. I would say that in the Damascus area, they do seem to have the upper hand. We saw a lot of parts that are very much entrenched with the opposition. And I would say that there is more momentum on the government side at this point in time, especially with the rebels weakening each other with the infighting going on between the Islamists and the more moderate forces. But I don't think that that momentum will lead to a decisive victory anywhere in the near or medium-term future.

MCEVERS: Frederik Pleitgen is a Berlin correspondent for CNN. He joined us from Damascus. Thanks so much, Fred.

PLEITGEN: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.