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World

Syrian Regime Forces Advance Into Rebel-Held Areas Of Aleppo

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Syrian government forces are moving deep into a part of the city of Aleppo that has been controlled by rebels for years. There are tens of thousands of people still living there - possibly more - who could get caught in the crossfire. NPR's Alice Fordham joins us from the Syrian capital of Damascus. Alice, what can you tell us about the situation in Aleppo right now?

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Well, as you say, Ari, the people there are trapped in a shrinking opposition enclave. We have to remember that for the last four years or so, rebel forces have held that eastern side of the city of Aleppo. At one point, there were hundreds of thousands of civilians living under opposition control. Tens of thousands of people have already fled this most recent offensive by the regime and its allies. Those who are left - NPR has been able to reach some of them. They are terrified that they could be killed in an intense bombardment from the Syrian army and from their allies. This is the last urban area, really, still held by rebel forces, so if it is retaken by government forces, then it could be really a pivotal moment in this war.

SHAPIRO: What about cease fire negotiations? Is anything likely?

FORDHAM: Well, there have been discussions on an international level. It's been discussed in the United Nations Security Council, but that initiative was vetoed by Russia and China. There's also been talks between American diplomats who have generally sided with opposition forces and Russians who have sided with President Bashar al-Assad. And the United Nations is called to be able to evacuate civilians, to be able to get much-needed aid into that opposition area. So these talks are ongoing, but as yet, it's not clear whether they're going to result in aid being delivered or any civilians being evacuated. There have been a lot of broken promises in the past, so we're watching to see what happens.

SHAPIRO: You are more than 200 miles away in the capital of Damascus. What do people there make of this latest news?

FORDHAM: Well, the people that I have been able to speak to here generally are quite close to the government, to - even to the president in some cases. And they are receiving this news joyfully. They don't see it as the crushing of an opposition with many civilians involved. They see it as defeating terrorists who are holding on to this part of the city of Aleppo. And they say that any civilians there are being forced to be there by the rebel forces. So they see this also as a turning point in the war, but as a turning point towards victory, really, for their side and the forces of good, as they see it.

SHAPIRO: We've seen so many images of horrible devastation in Aleppo. Does Damascus feel like a city at war? What's the environment there?

FORDHAM: Well, you know, central Damascus actually has been remarkably insulated from the war that has engulfed so much of the rest of Syria. And actually being back here, it's remarkable how intact the city center is. There are parks. The roads and the sidewalks are in good shape. It feels like a city that is thriving. People are out late at night at shops and cafes. Now, I know from the reporting that I have done that there are places very close to the city - in some case, you know, really suburbs on the edge of the city itself - that have been at war for years and years. But right in the middle of Damascus, it feels very far away from that.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Alice Fordham, thanks a lot.

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