U.N. Security Council Fails To Act After Emergency Meeting On Syria

Sep 26, 2016
Originally published on September 26, 2016 7:47 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Let's turn to Syria now. The aerial bombardment of eastern Aleppo by Syrian regime and Russian warplanes has just been ferocious. These attacks have killed hundreds, destroyed residential centers, schools and overwhelmed hospitals.

ABDEL KAFI ALHAMDO: A lot of hospitals send us many calls - please tell all the world we can't - we don't have the capacity. Some hospitals yesterday treated the people in the street because they don't have places.

GREENE: That is the voice of Abdel Kafi Alhamdo. He's an English teacher at the University of Aleppo. We reached him in the rebel-held eastern part of the city by Skype.

ALHAMDO: We are really broken inside, OK? We are psychologically affected. Now we are dead in our hearts.

GREENE: All right, that is just one voice in the city of Aleppo. I want to turn now to my colleague, NPR's Alice Fordham, who has been monitoring the situation in Aleppo from Beirut. And, Alice, just give us a broad idea of what's happening there.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Well, this regime offensive is into its fifth day now. The UN's envoy to Syria says there have been more than 200 people killed in the city and in the nearby countryside. Now, that's not all civilians, but does include dozens of women and children. There are a lot of fighters in the rebel-held half of the city, and a lot of the civilians have left - probably 80 percent.

But the U.N. estimates are about 275,000 civilians there. A lot of those people are just too poor to leave. These are people with no good options. And in addition to those aerial attacks, there are ground offensives. And the water was cut off to the opposition-held half of the city.

GREENE: So is anyone actually there, Alice, with the strength to - to fight back, or is the city very much defenseless right now?

FORDHAM: Absolutely. What we're seeing is fierce fighting, is battles. So rebel forces, in retaliation for that water being cut off, then they cut off the water to the government-held half of the city. So now no one in a city of nearly 2 million people has pumped water. And the rebel forces don't have an air force, so they don't usually inflict as much suffering on civilians.

But it's important to note that, in recent weeks and months, we have heard reports of rebel forces targeting civilian areas. One missile hit a school last week. And in terms of that ground fighting, they've pushed back hard. They managed to scramble and retake some high ground that the regime had taken in the countryside north of Aleppo over the weekend.

At the moment, the regime has the upper hand. Analysts think they probably used the short breather of a recent cease-fire to reorganize. But there have definitely been times over the last few months when rebel forces have made significant progress in Aleppo City. These are not rebel forces on their last legs.

GREENE: It is important to note, it sounds like - I just want to highlight something you said - that there are civilians being hit not just by government forces, but civilians being hit by these rebel forces as well. Who are they? Who are these rebels?

FORDHAM: Well, there are some of what we might call moderate or mainstream rebel forces there. There's also a contingent from an al-Qaida-linked group among them. Now, a couple of weeks ago, when the Russians and the Americans were talking about a plan to improve the situation in Syria, their goal was to get a cease-fire and to encourage more moderate fighters to reject extremists, including al-Qaida.

But talking to analysts and people observing the situation closely, they point out that, under the pressure of a huge regime offensive, all the anti-government fighters are going to be banding together, including al-Qaida, working more closely because they are fighting for their lives here.

GREENE: Well, Alice, help me understand some diplomatic speak here. The U.N. Security Council is talking about a de facto siege of eastern Aleppo. We've been reporting on this, and I'll often just say, you know, Aleppo is a city under siege. But it sounds much more complicated than that.

FORDHAM: Right, exactly. So the city of Aleppo has, for several years, been divided in two, OK? So half of it - broadly speaking, the western part of it - is held by the government. There's about one and a half million civilians living there. And that is under the control of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Generally, there's very little problem with supply there. Under some circumstances, life even continues as normal, OK?

The eastern side of the city - a part of the city has been held by rebel forces for years and years. That's the place where most of the civilians have left. That's the place that's been under aerial bombardment for years. That's the place where the rebels are holed up and they're fighting.

And that's the place that the supply lines have been recently cut off. And it has come under what the U.N. is referring to as a de facto siege. That has happened only in the last few weeks.

GREENE: OK, speaking to my colleague, NPR's Alice Fordham, about the situation in Aleppo in Syria. Alice, thanks a lot.

FORDHAM: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.