Syrian Airstrikes Target White Helmets Volunteer Group In Aleppo
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Leaders meeting at the United Nations continue to discuss a path forward in Syria. But inside the country, the regime has launched a brutal offensive on the rebel-held section of the city of Aleppo. NPR's Alice Fordham reports.
ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: There's been fighting between regime and rebels in Aleppo city for years, but this time is different. I spoke to Assaad al Achi, who heads a civil society group with staff in Aleppo.
ASSAAD AL ACHI: Well, I mean, there is an unprecedented escalation in the air campaign.
FORDHAM: Achi says regime loyalists are using huge bombs that leave craters five feet deep.
ACHI: They're biggest thing we've seen since the beginning of the violence. We haven't seen these craters that big before - not in Aleppo and nowhere else.
FORDHAM: The monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least 27 people have been killed. But on the ground, the local head of the rescue organization known White Helmets, Ammar Selmo, says many more are still under rubble.
AMMAR SELMO: Up to now there is complete families under the rubble, dead bodies.
FORDHAM: And the White Helmets can't help those families because three of their four centers in Aleppo have been hit. Their vehicles are destroyed. Selmo doesn't believe that was an accident.
SELMO: Actually, the regime deliberately targeted.
FORDHAM: He says he intercepted pilots' communications and heard them getting orders to bomb his colleagues. Only yesterday, the White Helmets were given a humanitarian award. But Selmo says he's anything but happy.
SELMO: We take it there yesterday. And at the same time, there is a lot of killing.
FORDHAM: This offensive began a few days after a truce collapsed. American diplomats are still trying to resurrect it. Noah Bonsey with the International Crisis Group says this fresh attack by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad shows they never had much interest in the truce.
NOAH BONSEY: Very quickly, while talks between the U.S. and Russia were still going on in New York, the regime and its allies on the ground have really moved to take the fight to the opposition.
FORDHAM: Bonsey also points out that Russian and American diplomats have stressed the importance of getting moderate rebels to reject a group with al-Qaida links. But under the pressure of this offensive, they're far more likely to move closer together. Alice Fordham, NPR News, Beirut.
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