Middle East
2:35 pm
Tue December 24, 2013

Escalating Violence In Syria Kills More Than 300 In 10 Days

Originally published on Tue December 24, 2013 6:02 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. The civil war in Syria is unrelenting. More than 300 people killed in the past 10 days, according to opposition activists in a government air assault around the city of Aleppo. We're going to get an update and also consider the diplomatic possibilities in this part of the program and we'll start with the latest on the fighting.

Syrian air force helicopters have been dropping barrel bombs on the city. Those are oil drums packed with metal scraps and explosives and their effects has been devastating. Rebel forces are also stepping up the fight with a surge of gruesome sectarian attacks in Adra, an industrial town just north of Damascus. NPR's Deborah Amos has been following these developments and she joins us now from Beirut.

And Deborah, tell us, first, what's happening in Adra.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Well, Robert, the story of these two cities shows you just how violent this conflict has become. Adra is a mixed city. You find minority Alawites, Drus and majority Sunni Muslims. It's about 100,000 people. On December 11, rebel fighters from the most extreme wings of these armed groups stormed the city. And according to their Facebook pages, some Syrian sources, they came with lists of names.

They went around door to door, took people who were government supporters from their homes and executed them, many by beheading and we've seen some of those videos online. They can't be confirmed. There are no reliable figures of how many people have been killed. Some people did manage to escape from Adra and so there are accounts from them which tell us that there were bodies in the street.

Those people who are still in Arda have been told to stay in the basement and not to come out.

SIEGEL: Now, forces (unintelligible) supporting the Syrian regime have shown over the past couple of weeks that they can take back territory from the rebels. Is this assault on Adra a rebel attempt to reverse that?

AMOS: Indeed. And what is interesting about this town is many of these rebels came from a place called Guta(ph) , which has been under siege by the government for more than a year. International aid workers say that the regime has been using starvation tactics in Guta to break the rebels. Yet, this group was able to move out of Guta 12 miles from the capital to Adra and actually be able to besiege a government stronghold.

SIEGEL: Let's turn to Aleppa, Syria's largest city. Nine days of strikes and more than 300 people dead, but the regime evidently cannot gain full control of this city from the air. What's the point of the air strikes in that case?

AMOS: It's been a very brutal nine days and they expanded that campaign today to three other rebel-held towns. There are some people who make the connection. They say that Adra, because the regime is not able to retake that town, that Aleppo - these are revenge strikes. It also may be softening up. The regime has been saying for the last eight months that they will retake Aleppo.

They have not been able to. They have been stalled every time they have tried. They get close, but the rebels have been stronger than the regime in Aleppo and have retained their half of the city.

SIEGEL: Is the Geneva - as they say, the Geneva II framework, the big conference that's supposed to be held, is it seen as the framework governing what's happening on the ground in Syria now?

AMOS: It appears that both sides are trying to show their strength ahead of Geneva. There are many analysts who say that what Geneva may put in place is a divided Syria between the regime and the opposition and it is clear that the regime is trying to press its military advantage. They have the advantage of the air, but the rebels have their own counter strategy which they make surprising attacks from places that you don't expect, even after they have been besieged for a year.

These are all messages to each other before Geneva begins.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Deborah Amos updating us on the fighting in Syria. She's in Beirut, Lebanon. Deb, thanks.

AMOS: Thank you, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.