War In Syria Continues Among Other Regional Conflicts

While the world's attention remains focused on the conflict in Israel and Gaza, the war in Syria continues. NPR's Eric Westervelt speaks with Los Angeles Times correspondent Raja Abdulrahim, who recently reported from inside Syria.

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ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:

While much of the world's attention is trained on the conflict in Israel and Gaza, the war in Syria is grinding on. According to activists, more than 170,000 people have been killed in the fighting. Raja Abdulrahim is a correspondent with The LA Times. She recently traveled to the rebel-controlled areas of Aleppo. That's Syria's largest city. She said she watched many people there packing up their lives and leaving the city to escape the relentless airstrikes. In many cases, Raja says, they're even fleeing to areas controlled by extremists from the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

RAJA ABDULRAHIM: We went out one morning and usually these people are leaving around 6 a.m. or 7 a.m., before the planes, you know, the government planes really start to take to the skies. So you just sort of see this stream of microbuses and pickup trucks piled up with all their possessions just heading out of Aleppo. And maybe about three-fourths of them are going to ISIS-controlled areas.

WESTERVELT: Those that stay behind, Raja, are they able to get basics - food, water, shelter? Are any schools open?

ABDULRAHIM: No schools are open. You know, you hear certain like isolated stories of people trying to hold a school in a home, you know, sort of a dozen kids, but even those instances are very rare. Even in the suburbs, which are under somewhat better conditions, schools try to open but most parents don't want to send their kids. There's just this feeling of wanting to keep, you know, the kids close in case anything happens. In terms of basic necessity, you know, obviously Syrians are dealing with, you know, a huge percentage of poverty. And so even basic food is hard to sort of come by. I was there during Ramadan which - the fasting month of Ramadan, which ends this weekend. And that's, you know, one or two meals a day and even that, a lot of families were struggling to find, you know, enough to feed their families. Most residents don't have running water. Mostly they go to mosques. They usually have wells, and they'll pump for an hour or two. And so, you know, you'll see a lot of kids coming with just buckets or bottles and, you know, families coming just to fill up every day.

WESTERVELT: And you've written that for many rebel fighters, there's a sense that the conflict has wrought little but destruction and loss. Are more and more rebels giving up the fight and fleeing as well?

ABDULRAHIM: Yes, yeah. I mean, there is - some of them aren't actually leaving the area. Some of them are leaving, sort of, the front lines and the rebels and trying to find work to support their family. Others are trying to go, you know, leaving maybe to Turkey to try to finish their studies. I've spoken to many students who left their first or second year of college and they thought it would sort of be this quick revolution and it would be over. And now they're starting to think, well, I'm better off going and sort of caring about my future because they just don't see a future in the rebellion. But you still have a lot of rebels who are still on the front lines. The problem is, though, with so many of the older rebels leaving or being killed, you're starting to see a lot more younger rebels on the front lines.

WESTERVELT: Are most child soldiers picking up Kalashnikovs?

ABDULRAHIM: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I saw during this trip - and I was last in Aleppo about three months ago - and between then and now I saw a lot more, you know, 15-, 16-, 17-year-olds on, you know, either at checkpoints or near the front lines.

WESTERVELT: Based on your reporting, do you think the war is headed for a more grinding stalemate, or does the Syrian government, you know, have the upper hand right now in a big way?

ABDULRAHIM: The government might have the upper hand, but I don't see the rebellion dying down. You know, in terms of - even if the government is able to regain control of certain areas, the rebellion still has a lot of support within the country. So it's not going to disappear anytime soon.

WESTERVELT: That's Raja Abdulrahim. She's a correspondent for The LA Times, and she recently completed a reporting trip inside northern Syria. Raja, thanks for being with us.

ABDULRAHIM: Thank you so much.

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