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Syrian Regime Continues Massive Assault On Aleppo's Rebel Areas


In Syria, conditions for hundreds of thousands of people are increasingly dire as the Syrian government and its allies continue a massive assault on rebel-held areas of the city of Aleppo. Aleppo has been a divided city for years, and rebels are well-entrenched in the city's eastern neighborhoods. But there are estimates that more than 200,000 civilians remain there as well.

This latest offensive including Syrian and Russian airstrikes comes after a failed attempt at a cease-fire earlier this month. NPR's Alice Fordham joins us now from Beirut. And Alice, what's the latest on how intense the fighting has been?

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: It has been intense. Earlier today there was a slight lull in this aerial assault. People said they were using that time to dig through the rubble of bombed buildings to recover victims. It is hard to get an exact death toll for this last week or so of fighting - the weekend, the United Nations said more than 200 people. A local opposition official told us more than 400 people. Those won't all be civilians, but many of them are. But in the chaos, it's hard to count because buildings are hit, and it's too dangerous to try to rescue people or recover bodies.

Now, what we are seeing is significant ground fighting. Many people on the opposition side say they fear this is a concerted effort by the forces of Bashar al-Assad to move in decisively and take eastern Aleppo, take the areas that the rebel forces are holding. There's fighting around the citadel right in the middle of the city, and there's fighting in crucial supply routes around the edges. We're seeing back and forth, not decisive advances one way or the other at the moment.

SIEGEL: Now, NPR has spoken to people in Aleppo. What do they say conditions are like in the city?

SIEGEL: Yeah, terrible. I mean it's tough to talk to these people. They say this is the worst week in years of fighting there. I spoke to the mother of young children today who said the building next door to theirs was hit, and they were running out of food she'd stored up.

We also spoke to the head of the local council who said that rescue volunteers can't work. Most of them are out of commission. They say that their offices have been targeted in these airstrikes, that vehicles are destroyed. The Red Cross released a statement saying that hospitals are overflowing, very few doctors, no blood for blood transfusions, no supplies. The World Health Organization called for urgent medical evacuations. But those need permission from the regime, and the regime has a history of not giving those.

And lots of elements of life have just stopped like schools, which are usually underground in basements. But now that people say the missiles are bigger, even basements are being destroyed.

SIEGEL: Are there any prospects for things calming down in Aleppo?

FORDHAM: No, not on the military side and not in terms of humanitarian aid or evacuations. Part of the reason for that is that the humanitarian side of things is tied closely with the political. And there's some progress on talks between the two sides and their allies. Sometimes we see things like aid convoys working, but right now those talks are at a standstill.

SIEGEL: NPR's Alice Fordham in Beirut, thanks for talking with us.

FORDHAM: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alice Fordham is an NPR International Correspondent based in Beirut, Lebanon.
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