RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
After days of wrangling, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously Saturday for a 30-day cease-fire in Syria to allow aid groups access to areas in desperate need of help. The sprawling Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta has been under attack by the Syrian government and its allies. The priority now is getting the wounded out and food and medical supplies in. It's estimated that more than 500 people have died, including many women and children, in just the past week alone. NPR's Ruth Sherlock joins us now.
So Ruth, you have been talking with people in eastern ghouta, I understand. What are they telling you? Has the cease-fire actually taken effect at this point?
RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Hi. Yes, well, they are saying that there is little sign of a truce. So there was - the number of airstrikes kind of eased up in the hours immediately after the cease-fire was voted in. But they've seemed to have resumed. And there's also heavy, heavy shelling. I'm hearing that about 14 civilians have died since the cease-fire was put in place according to monitors. There's even reports of chlorine gas attacks - this chemical attack - in one of the towns that's near the frontline where rebels are fighting the Syrian regime. There's videos posted online - really distressing images of people, including children, coughing and choking in a makeshift hospital. We spoke to doctors who said this had happened. I can't independently confirm this. But what is clear is that civilians are desperate there. We reached Salah, a doctor who's in Ghouta. He asked for his name - last name not be used because of security.
SALAH: (Speaking Arabic).
SHERLOCK: Here he's saying the cease-fire hasn't begun. He tells a story of a man who was, like many families in Ghouta, living in the basement and took the chance of going up above ground to try to get some food but was killed in another rocket attack. And he says, you know, now they just are running out of everything - medicines and even basic supplies like bandages.
MARTIN: So what does this mean that the fighting is continuing? I mean, this is just Bashar al-Assad just flouting this cease-fire passed by the U.N.
SHERLOCK: Well, what seems to have happened here is that the air campaign that pounded these suburbs has now been replaced by a ground war. So there's government troops and militias supporting the government that have been amassing on these borders. And they're now trying to take this territory back. And there's a video I'm going to play you which has a spokesman - a sort of media guy who follows the Tiger Forces, a special unit that's attached to the Syrian military. And he's on a rooftop near the front line, and you can hear the war that's happening behind him.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Arabic).
SHERLOCK: He's saying, we don't care what the U.N. Security Council decides. That was the other day. The important thing is that Ghouta is right behind me. And it will be liberated. So what the government is saying is that it's not flouting the U.N. Security Council agreement. It says that agreement excludes groups that are aligned with al-Qaida. Now in this suburb, there are said to be a small number of rebels who are aligned with al-Qaida. But, you know, there's 350,000 people trapped under siege in this area and a small number of these rebels. But the government and its allies are basically using that as an argument to say, you know, the cease-fire doesn't apply here.
MARTIN: And just briefly, what about from Damascus where the regime is popular?
SHERLOCK: Well, that's the thing. You know, these rebels in eastern Ghouta have been shelling central Damascus. And a lot of people have died in the shelling attacks. So there's a lot of fear. And there is also a lot of support for the government's offensive there. They say it's a seven-year war. Yes, it's costly. But we need to take this area back.
MARTIN: NPR's Ruth Sherlock reporting from Beirut this morning. Ruth, thanks so much.
SHERLOCK: Thank you very much.
(SOUNDBITE OF ABAJI'S "TRANCE EASTERN BLUES")
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