As Syrian Government Forces Advance; Remaining Aleppo Residents Plead For Help
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to turn now to Syria, where the regime backed by Russia is pressing deeper into rebel-held areas of the city of Aleppo. Russia and the U.S. have been in almost constant contact the past few days, trying to agree on a way to bring the fighting in that city to an end. NPR's Alison Meuse reports from Beirut that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to take the city by force.
ALISON MEUSE, BYLINE: For outside observers, the fall of Aleppo's last rebel-controlled neighborhoods seems inevitable. But rebels continue to resist. And for those trapped inside, the situation is an ongoing horror. I call up Salem Abu al-Naser (ph). He's a dentist who, along with tens of thousands of others, is trapped in the tightening siege.
SALEM ABU AL-NASER: (Through interpreter) Surely, you know what airstrikes are like - to have everything from artillery to rockets to vacuum missiles. I don't even know how to describe the kinds of things that are landing on us.
MEUSE: Abu al-Naser says that, before this new Russian-backed offensive, he'd never seen anything like it. He pleads on behalf of the residents.
AL-NASER: (Through interpreter) These are people who love life. It's not like Aleppo is just full of a bunch of fighters or radicals.
MEUSE: Aleppo residents and aid workers say rebels have, in some cases, obstructed people from leaving. But Abu al-Naser says most choose to stay because they don't want to be homeless.
AL-NASER: (Through interpreter) We're talking about regular people sitting in their homes. They don't want to live in refugee camps. They don't want to go to Europe. They don't want to flee.
MEUSE: Abu al-Naser says it's not right they be forced from their homes.
AL-NASER: (Through interpreter) As a human being who is living this horror, I demand a cease-fire. Then we can talk about anything else.
MEUSE: But the regime is in a powerful position. Rebels have suffered stunning losses in recent weeks, losing most of the neighborhoods they'd held for four years. Their calls for a five-day pause and negotiations have gone unanswered. The U.N. is struggling to get permission for aid deliveries and evacuations. Syria analyst Aron Lund says it's no surprise the regime isn't heeding rebel demands.
ARON LUND: My understanding is that Assad is not, in the slightest, interested in having negotiations over the city. He doesn't feel that the rebels have any leverage left. Why should he talk to them? They can leave on his terms, or they can die.
MEUSE: Lund says Assad might have reasoned differently last summer, when rebels briefly broke the siege. But in a recent interview, Assad said the time for truces in Aleppo is over. Analyst Lund says rebels have lost their biggest chip to negotiate the future of Syria and put pressure on the regime.
LUND: You'd have to take Aleppo, not lose it. And you have to take, perhaps, Damascus, too. And they're nowhere close to that. They're just getting further away from it.
MEUSE: On the ground, humanitarian workers had a small victory this week. The Red Cross and Syria's Red Crescent evacuated almost 150 people from a makeshift hospital on the front lines, many of them mentally ill or physically disabled, along with six orphans. They'd gone nearly a week trapped without food.
But the Red Cross says 11 people didn't live to see that rescue. They died from lack of medication or were killed in the crossfire. They were evacuated in body bags. Alison Meuse, NPR News, Beirut.
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