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Syrian Ceasefire Appears To Be Fraying As Regime Launches New Airstrikes

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

In Syria, a cease-fire seems to be fraying. This week, the government launched airstrikes against Northwestern town, killing dozens of residents. It's a town that's largely controlled by a group opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Bissan Fakih is with The Syria Campaign. It's a group that promotes democracy and tries to call attention to the plight of Syrian civilians. She's in touch with aid workers on the ground in that part of the country, and we reached her in Beirut.

BISSAN FAKIH: Regime planes or Russian planes - it's still not yet been confirmed - they flew over the market and a town in Northern Syria called Maarat Numan at midday when most people were out just trying to get groceries. The bomb struck the middle of the market. I spoke to the White Helmets, who were rescue workers there, and they described how they had 20 vehicles. And it just wasn't enough to save all of the injured people.

MCEVERS: You've said that it was either the Syrian regime or Russian planes. And we should say that the U.S. State Department spokesman, John Kirby, said it is our understanding at this time that it was most likely regime forces. And of course, while all this is happening, in Geneva, peace talks are continuing. Although we did see that some of the opposition leaders did recently walk out. Do you see any hope in these talks?

FAKIH: Well, you know, it's easy to be pessimistic. But at the same time, when the cease-fire came about, nobody expected that any good would come of it. But you know, a lot of the casualties have dropped since then. So we can only be optimistic if the U.S. government and Russia, who set up these peace talks, who've brokered these peace agreements, get really serious about making sure that they last. And you know, when we're talking about cease-fire violations, it's not just a hotheaded soldier firing a machine gun. We're talking about a plane flying over a market and bombing it.

MCEVERS: And just to be clear, before these attacks this week and before these negotiations in Geneva, there was a time that the violence did slow down - is that right? - I mean, since the cessation of hostilities began in February.

FAKIH: That's completely right, yes. So we went by for several days when we were seeing no civilian deaths or injuries, which really took us by surprise and made us so happy.

MCEVERS: What was life like for those couple of months when things had slowed down?

FAKIH: So I think that the most striking thing is that people went back into the streets to protest. People were raising banners against the regime, against al-Qaida, and they were saying, we still want the same demands of the revolution that we had five years ago.

But then, you know, there's, like, the beautiful little parts of daily life, which is, the kids were able to go into the playgrounds again. People were able to go shopping for food. They were able to leave their basements because they weren't worried about the bombs anymore. And I think that meant a lot to many, many Syrian families that have had to suffer for so many years.

MCEVERS: For years, the issue in talks like this has been whether the future of Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, is up for negotiation - basically if he should stay or if he should go. I mean, the government, of course, says he should stay, and the opposition says he should go. Is there any way of getting past that and reaching some kind of agreement?

FAKIH: Well, you know, people have been protesting for five years when they haven't been being bombed for the fall of the regime. It's part of the Arab Spring. It's the main demand of the people. So I don't see how, with Assad staying in power, the situation can be peaceful or people will just stop protesting. It's just completely unlikely, and I think he has to go.

MCEVERS: That's Bissan Fakih with The Syria Campaign. It's a global advocacy group that campaigns for civilians in Syria. Thank you very much for your time today.

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

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