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In Besieged Eastern Aleppo, A Struggle To Keep City Running


Let's hear now voices from the divided city of Aleppo in Syria. They convey a mix of fatigue and resilience. For two weeks, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have attacked the rebel-held eastern side of the city. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 civilians have died there. NPR's Alison Meuse spoke to people there who try to keep life going.

ALISON MEUSE, BYLINE: For the past four years, opposition factions have controlled the eastern half of Aleppo. It's always been dangerous there, frequently bombed by the regime and its allies. But opposition leaders have tried to maintain a semblance of governance. I speak with Britta Haji Hassan, who's headed the opposition city council there for the past year.

BRITTA HAJI HASSAN: (Through interpreter) There's the basic municipal services, then there's supervising education and health and overseeing the distribution of relief.

MEUSE: Hassan is an engineer and father, who normally oversees 600 employees, managing schools, hospitals and food distribution. They even had a plan to grow food in the city's green spaces. But now, he says, they're facing an unprecedented air assault, and everything's changed. The morning I spoke with him, two hospitals were bombed.

HASSAN: (Through interpreter) The situation is very, very hard. There's anxiety and horror, and we can't do anything about it.

MEUSE: Now, he says, his focus is rescue work - clearing rubble from roads and distributing strictly rationed bread. He sounds overwhelmed, but determined to keep trying. Speaking with other Aleppans in these opposition areas who are trying to keep things running, that tone becomes familiar. Ahmad Deiri is an ambulance driver whose charity, Shafak, is supported by Save the Children. Just two weeks ago, he was leaving home on a rescue mission when his house got hit.

AHMAD DEIRI: (Through interpreter) I was buried an hour under the rubble.

MEUSE: His wife wasn't hurt, but she was eight months pregnant and gave birth prematurely. The baby clothes they'd bought were incinerated. Now, they're living with neighbors, and he's recovering from burns. But 24-year-old Deiri is eager to get back on the job.

DEIRI: (Through interpreter) When you're working in the rebel areas, you really feel bad when you're not working. Say there's a bombing and a massacre, you don't feel you can sit at home. You want to go and help people. The people here are really impoverished - people without money, without anywhere else to live.

MEUSE: Deiri says it's those people that keep him here. Another young man, who asked that his name be withheld so the regime won't target his family, tells NPR he used to distribute food delivered by an aid agency. But now, with his area under siege, there's no food to distribute. He fears people will soon go hungry.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And they will be in really bad situation. They will not find food to eat.

MEUSE: His parents have gone to safer areas, but he doesn't want to leave, even if he gets the chance. He's trying to figure out a new way to help - maybe join a rescue team or work at a hospital. He says, I hope I can do something. Alison Meuse, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.