Civilians Caught In Aleppo Violence

Jun 11, 2016
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We turn now to Syria where only about a year ago president Bashar al-Assad said his forces would have to give up parts of the country to salvage others. But on Tuesday he vowed to take back every inch of Syria.

While that may be difficult, a bloody showdown is underway in Aleppo. NPR's Alison Meuse reports. And a warning, this story includes sounds of an injured child.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

BASHAR AL-ASSAD: (Speaking Arabic).

ALISON MEUSE, BYLINE: In his recent speech, Assad vowed that the areas around Aleppo will be the graveyard of the armed opposition. He notes that they're backed by Turkey. Some groups are also backed by the United States. What's clear is that a nationwide truce brokered over three months ago has fallen apart. That could be heard from a child screams in an Aleppo hospital this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHILD SCREAMING)

MEUSE: In a video published by Syria's state news agency, a child waits for his wounds to be treated on a hospital bed. He's in the government-held side of the city - increasingly targeted by rebel shelling. Equally disturbing activist footage emerged from the rebel side this week showing children with deep wounds caused by government attacks and being treated without anesthesia.

Using Whatapp messenger, I reach a civilian on the rebel-held side of the city. The 29-year-old Abdel Fatah al-Sheikh was out doing errands, and he paused to record the street around him during a lull in the violence.

He used to be a math teacher and now works odd jobs to support his wife and two kids. He says the violence is increasing.

ABDEL FATAH AL-SHEIKH: (Through interpreter) This morning a missile struck killing a little girl and her mother and wounding others. We are in a state of huge war where at any moment there might be killing, destruction and displacement.

MEUSE: Al-Sheikh says Aleppo enjoyed a period of calm at the start of the nationwide truce in late February. But slowly regime offensives in the countryside heated up.

Now the city is in the thick of it. Still, he says, he won't leave. He has a plot of land. It's his home. He says most people will stick out like him. He thinks it's impossible Assad could ever retake the city.

AL-SHEIKH: (Through interpreter) Maybe he could besiege it, destroy it, kill hundreds of people, that's what Bashar al-Assad can do.

MEUSE: The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says over 500 civilians were killed in the past month and a half. The total victory that Assad is promising would require a drawn-out fight. Assad is showcasing something else.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

MEUSE: In a video filmed by Syrian journalist Eyad al-Hosain, army tanks fire from dessert highway. Al-Hosain is embedded with Syrian troops who've push into Raqqa province for the first time in nearly two years. Raqqa is far east of Aleppo. And I contacted al-Hosain there on Whatsapp.

EYAD AL-HOSAIN: (Through interpreter) Everybody knows that Raqqa is on the capital of ISIS here in Syria. It is the first city they captured.

MEUSE: It's an opportunity for Assad to show his troops are fighting ISIS, which is not included in the truce and even the U.S. and Russia agree is a common enemy. But al-Hosain says this is a tough fight and even with Russian airpower the stretched Syrian army may not be able to capture all of Raqqa, let alone the whole country. He says his embed might take him to Aleppo next. Alison Meuse NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.