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Areas Of Fighting Threaten Cease-Fire In Syria


In Syria, the cease-fire that's largely held since the end of February is fraying. Over the weekend, there were reports of fighting around the city of Aleppo, and the Syrian prime minister spoke of a fresh offensive by the regime in that area. Here to update us on the situation is Alice Fordham. She's in Beirut. Good morning.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, we've heard about violations throughout the cease-fire here and there. Are these new reports of fighting bigger or more problematic?

FORDHAM: Yeah, exactly. It's a bit more intense than we have seen previously. All sides have been documenting violations. Not surprisingly, the opposition have been mainly, you know, uploading pictures of regime incursions on what they say are opposition-held areas - airstrikes, primarily. The Russians are running a sort of coordination center, where they document what they say are problems by rebel groups that are meant to be signatories to the cease-fire. And that's been going on for several weeks. But what we've seen over the last few days is an intensification of clashes around Aleppo, some of which is among groups that are not parties to the cease-fire, like the Islamic State, some of which is, reportedly, groups which are meant to be party to the cease-fire - more moderate rebel groups - clashing with regime forces and their allies.

MONTAGNE: Does this spell the end of the cease-fire?

FORDHAM: Well, I think a lot of people will hope that it doesn't. You know, when this cease-fire started out, there were a lot of people who were extremely skeptical. There had been similar initiatives previously in Syria which had not been successful. There continued to be this heavy drumbeat of civilian deaths, of attacks on opposition-held areas. You know, we saw these well-documented attacks, probably by the Russian Air Force or the Syrian Air Force, on medical facilities. And people were skeptical at that time that there was a real will that the cease-fire would continue, that it would work, but it has. It hasn't been perfect. It's been very problematic, but we've seen a very significant drop in civilian casualties. And I think it's important not to forget that. So there's a lot of people that are kind of holding their breath, hoping this will continue and that peace talks will continue. But the thing is, another aspect of the cease-fire was meant to aid delivery. You know, people are suffering not just from violence, but from their areas being cut off - usually by regime forces - from food aid, from medical aid. And over the last week or two, we have seen a growing chorus of voices from the United Nations and from American officials saying, you know, this is not happening in good faith. So the cease-fire is highly imperfect. The aid deliveries are getting more difficult. But I think there's a lot of people that'll still be hoping that it will, you know, kind of hang on by its fingernails.

MONTAGNE: You know, Alice, one of the ways Assad has tried to maintain the public image of a functioning national government is by holding parliamentary elections. And this week, I gather, they are due to be held, which, frankly, seems surreal.

FORDHAM: Right. I mean, they're probably not very significant in terms of who makes the decisions in Syria. The parliament isn't a very powerful body in general, and it's normal to have an election every four years. But certainly opposition people took this as a sign of defiance and that the international community was negotiating over a transition. The Syrian regime is just continuing as if nothing is amiss, arranging affairs of governance, giving no sign that there's any hint that there's a transition plan which would involve Assad stepping down.

MONTAGNE: And, just finally, the UN says peace talks are also restarting later this week. Is there optimism over that?

FORDHAM: Well, they've been very problematic. People are still not talking directly to each other. But I think the fact that they're continuing at all is a sign of optimism for some people, yes.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Alice Fordham is speaking to us from Beirut. Thanks very much.

FORDHAM: Thanks for having me, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.