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World

Syrians In Raqqa Believe Assad Regime Benefits From War On ISIS

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

When Bashar al-Assad's government ruled the Syrian city of Raqqa, the people of that city suffered. Then the city was taken over by the extremist group called ISIS, and the people of the city suffered. Now at last U.S.-led airstrikes are hitting ISIS in Raqqa, and again the people of the city suffer. NPR's Alice Fordham reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF SYRIAN PROTESTS)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Chanting in foreign language).

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: When Syrians drove out the forces of Bashar al-Assad from the city of Raqqa, it wasn't long before the Islamic State, or ISIS, rushed in. Protest in Raqqa is impossible under ISIS, so this demo, held by ex-pats and their supporters, was in New York City earlier this week - ISIS out of Syria now. Of course, the U.S. is leading a coalition to do just that with airstrikes against ISIS. But in Raqqa, even people who hate the extremists say that's little help to them because Assad's warplanes are also attacking, and they target civilians.

JIMMY SHAHINIAN: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: Jimmy Shahinian used to live in Raqqa until he fled ISIS. Ten days ago, he says over Skype from Turkey, Assad's forces stepped up bombings of civilians. He says hundreds were killed and injured, estimates backed up by the opposition-leaning Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

SHAHINIAN: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: Often, Syrian bombing raids happen right after or right before the American ones. Raqqans are starting to think the U.S.-led war on ISIS is helping Assad. Shahinian thinks Assad's regime is trying to look like the U.S.'s partner.

SHAHINIAN: (Foreign language spoken).

FORDHAM: If this keeps up, he says, people are going to turn against the coalition. An analyst with the International Crisis Group think tank, Noah Bonsey, says these concurrent American and regime airstrikes support what the extremists tell people in Syria - that jihadi narrative.

NOAH BONSEY: Which claims that the U.S. and coalition involvement in Syria is to the advantage of the regime and against the broader Syrian rebellion.

FORDHAM: U.S. officials insist they don't talk to Assad's regime. But Bonsey thinks there was a hope in Washington that Assad would stay out of the way of coalition bombing. That hope's now gone. Alice Fordham, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.