Upsurge In Violence In Syria Threatens Fragile Ceasefire

Apr 24, 2016
Originally published on April 25, 2016 4:55 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to head overseas now, where it appears that an agreement brokered by the U.S. and Russia to bring down the level of violence in Syria might not be much of a cease-fire after all. President Obama discussed the situation in Syria in a meeting earlier today in Germany with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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BARACK OBAMA: We remain deeply concerned about the upsurge in fighting in Syria over the last several days. And we continue to agree that the only real durable solution is a political solution that moves Syria towards an inclusive government that represents all Syrians.

MARTIN: President Obama plans to announce new steps to support partners in the region, including some 250 additional troops to Syria - that according to a senior administration official. NPR's Alice Fordham has been following events in Syria. And she's with us now from Beirut, Lebanon. Alice, thanks so much for speaking with us.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Afternoon, Michel.

MARTIN: So could you tell us about the events in Syria over the last 48 hours, and are we able to draw any conclusion about the state of the cease-fire from what's been happening?

FORDHAM: Sure. So what we've seen in the last two, three days is a significant uptick in violence that we have seen gradually increasing over the last few weeks. So this is a secession of hostilities that has been in place for getting on for two months now. But over the last few days, we have seen significant regime attacks on opposition-held areas that have killed large numbers of civilians in the city of Aleppo, where we have seen footage of attacks on civilian apartment blocks in Douma, near Damascus, and earlier in the week in the province of Idlib.

It's important to mention that sources in areas that are held by the regime are also telling NPR that the opposition - that rebel forces are now shelling them again. So there's violations on both sides. The cease-fire is not officially over. The cease-fire is part of an agreement that was hammered out largely by the U.S. and Russia and that included talks in Geneva and that included discussion of humanitarian access in areas of Syria. Those things are still ongoing, so it hasn't been officially abandoned. But it certainly looks in tatters in terms of the situation on the ground.

MARTIN: I know people have been watching this closely over the last, say, eight weeks or so that the cease-fire has been in effect. Are there any aspects of the agreement that are holding?

FORDHAM: Well, some of the things that are still ongoing are the discussions about getting the regime to give permission for humanitarian aid to go to areas that have been under siege in some cases years. Now, there has been significant disappointment among a number of officials who've been engaged in the negotiations about the amount of humanitarian aid that has been going into areas where people are starving in a lot of cases.

But the discussions about that are still ongoing, and there has been an increase in that. Another aspect of it is the talks in Geneva, where opposition and regime groups have been at talks in the same building, not in the same room. That's something that is still technically ongoing, even though the biggest opposition delegation is saying that it wants to put a pause on the discussions because of the violence in Syria and because the regime delegation is saying that it won't count a transition of President Bashar al-Assad away from power.

MARTIN: So are there any benchmarks that you and other observers can use in the coming weeks to understand whether progress is actually being made in ending the hostilities or holding up the cease-fire?

FORDHAM: Well, I think we'll certainly be keeping an eye on Geneva, Michel. If those talks there continue in whatever form, then I think that that is somewhere that we could see progress. Now, in terms of maintaining the cease-fire and in keeping people at those talks, the U.N. envoy to Syria on Friday said that the United States and Russia, which back different factions in Syria, must put pressure on their allies to maintain the cease-fire and to keep attending the talks. How much leverage both of those countries have over those factions is something that is sometimes in question, though.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Alice Fordham in Beirut. Alice, thank you.

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