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Donors Consider More Relief Aid For Syria


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Photographs out of Syria show a river in the city of Aleppo. The river flows through a concrete channel, rather like the Los Angeles River in California. And along those concrete banks in Aleppo, the photos show a long row of bodies.

NPR's Kelly McEvers is monitoring this story from Beirut. She's on the line. Kelly, what happened in Aleppo as best you can tell?

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: What we know is these bodies were found in a neighborhood called Bustan al-Qasr. It's actually a neighborhood we were in a couple of weeks ago in Aleppo. It's one of these neighborhoods along the front line. You know, there's a dividing line basically down the middle of the city. One side of the city is held by rebels. The other side is held by government. This river forms sort of a part of that dividing line.

We know that activists and human rights workers, and actually some Western journalists who were there yesterday, counted about 70 bodies. They were mostly men varying in age. They were dressed as civilians. Many of them had their hands tied. Several of them looked like they had been shot in the head. Not to be too graphic here, but rigor mortis had set in, which led people to think that they had not been there for very long.

There were relatives at the scene coming to pick up the bodies. Some of them said to Western journalists that their relatives had been in the government-controlled part of the city and had been trying to come home at some point, suggesting that it was government forces who did this.

Then, of course, you check the government, state-controlled media and they blame terrorists. This is the line that you usually get from Syrian state media. They say terrorist organization called Jabhat al-Nusra actually executed these people, dumped their bodies, and then made it into a propaganda campaign to smear the government.

So, at this point, it's hard to tell, as usual, which side is responsible.

INSKEEP: Is it normal in Aleppo, in your experience, not just to have killings in combat, but to have this kind of mysterious assassination?

MCEVERS: No, we haven't seen this so far since the fighting came to Aleppo this summer. We have seen it in many other places in Syria, however, places where you've got sects living side-by-side - Sunnis and Alawites - where we've seen a lot of these sort of revenge killings, especially in the city of Homs. We've seen it in places in Damascus, where you've got a really heavy rebel presence and it looks like the government has come in and tried to punish people for harboring rebels.

But we haven't actually seen it in areas of heavy combat, like Aleppo. So that's why this is even more of a mystery.

INSKEEP: We're talking with NPR's Kelly McEvers, trying to understand a series of killings in the city of Aleppo.

And at the same time this is happening, Kelly, the United Nations is gathering donors in Kuwait, as you know, seeking $1.5 billion in aid for the Syrians. Will the U.N. get that money?

MCEVERS: They're looking for $1 billion, Steve, just for the Syrians who have been forced out of the country. So this $1 billion would go to the neighboring countries. I mean imagine in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, where I am here, you've got entire cities of Syrians now living in tents, if they're lucky; on the muddy ground under a tarp, if they're not so lucky; maybe staying with relatives, if they can.

So this is a really urgent need. It's winter. It's cold. It's wet. And the numbers of people fleeing Syria are increasing rapidly.

Then there's another half-a-billion dollars they're seeking for people inside Syria. And if you can imagine, they have it even worse. We're talking millions of people who've been displaced from their homes now living in schools, mosques, in parks chopping down trees, burning wood to stay warm. The situation is extremely dire.

And here's the problem. It's not just that the U.N. hasn't gotten enough aid. It's that, when they do get the aid, where do they channel it? By and large, the U.N. still channels aid through the International Red Crescent, which is controlled by the Syrian government. So what you have is a lot of these displaced people are actually in rebel-controlled areas. But because the government will not get the aid to them, they're not getting any of it. So we're seeing a lot of people who still can't even get this aid if the aid is pledged.

INSKEEP: Is Syria breaking apart?

MCEVERS: It's looking bad, Steve. Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. Arab League envoy, was speaking to the Security Council yesterday, and he said just that. He said if the world doesn't step up and act - meaning the Security Council - things are going to fall apart. You're going to see, you know, government-controlled areas remain firm in Damascus and possibly on the coast and then, rebel-controlled areas sort of become entities of themselves and the fighting between the two sides continue.

It's basically a stalemate. Both sides have said they're going to fight to the death. But that means the death of Syria.

INSKEEP: NPR's Kelly McEvers, thanks very much.

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