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World

Syrian Regime Area Residents Suffer Amid Deadly Rebel Offensive

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Last week the image of a little Syrian boy named Omran Daqneesh, bloody and covered in dust in an ambulance, caught the world's attention. He had survived an airstrike that was targeting the rebel-held side of the divided Syrian city of Aleppo. Until recently the government inside of Aleppo had been safer, but NPR's Alison Meuse reports residents on the government side are also suffering.

ALISON MEUSE, BYLINE: For most of the war, the Syrian regime has conducted the bulk of indiscriminate bombing and besieging of civilian areas. But three weeks ago, rebels started an offensive to break a siege on their side of Aleppo. And the numbers show both sides suffering, like the numbers of children killed.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 79 children were among hundreds of civilians who died in Aleppo city since July 31. Of those, 30 children were killed in regime and Russian airstrikes, like the one Omran Daqneesh survived. And 49 children were killed by indiscriminate rebel shelling. Jan Egeland, who chairs a humanitarian task force on Syria, told NPR fighting also knocked out reliable aid access to both sides of the city

JAN EGELAND: Of late, it's been very difficult because both areas have been fully or partially encircled by enemy forces.

MEUSE: According to the U.N., Aleppo's government side is home to the vast majority of the population, more than a million and a half people, including many displaced from the rebel side. A Syrian humanitarian worker based in the government health side said this month's rebel advances forced tens of thousands of already displaced people to flee for their lives a second time as the unfinished housing complex they'd been sheltering in came under rebel fire.

The aid worker did not give his name because he's not authorized to speak. He spoke of unaccompanied children on the government side living in mosques and drinking dirty river water to survive. Wealthy families can still afford water delivery and generators, but many people are living a grim existence. Whatever is happening in the eastern rebel-held side, he says, is also happening in the west. That extends to electricity and water, according to humanitarian Egeland.

EGELAND: Electricity and water supplies have been cut in part or fully to large parts of both west and east, so in a way, they are connected by this suffering.

MEUSE: For now humanitarian workers are preparing for a 48-hour cease-fire the Russians are promising soon. Alison Meuse, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.