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Fighting Continues In Besieged Syrian Neighborhood Of Ghouta


All right. The radio was on yesterday afternoon, and someone said a phrase that nearly made me stop the car. Someone said the war in Syria is in its seventh year. And, it's true. A devastating civil war has gone on that long. The latest calls for a cease-fire didn't cease much of anything. Aid groups tried to bring food and medicine to an embattled suburb of Damascus and had to retreat under fire. This report from NPR's Ruth Sherlock begins with a sound that shows what's at stake in the suburb called Eastern Ghouta. It's the sound of a baby's cry.


UNIDENTIFIED RESCUE WORKER: (Foreign language spoken).

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: A rescue worker in Ghouta pulls a toddler out from under the rubble of another building collapsed by an airstrike.

UNIDENTIFIED RESCUE WORKER: (Foreign language spoken).

SHERLOCK: A U.N. call for a cease-fire has made little impact. Instead, residents of Ghouta continue to post photos and videos like these of the injured and of the dead, hoping that someone, somewhere can help.

RAMESH RAJASINGHAM: The suffering, it's tremendous because, you know, you have a horrific human impact of the bombing, hundreds of civilians killed in the last 10 days.

SHERLOCK: Ramesh Rajasingham is a senior U.N. official in charge of getting aid across the Turkish border and into parts of Syria that are outside of government control. But his job is nearly impossible in Eastern Ghouta, where pro-government troops keep a chokehold on what goes in and who comes out. This week, soldiers at a checkpoint confiscated trauma kits, insulin and other essential medical equipment from the only aid convoy to enter the area in weeks. Rajasingham says this is one of the worst situations for civilians that he's ever seen.

RAJASINGHAM: It's total sealing off and lack of access. It doesn't happen in most other crises.

SHERLOCK: Even as the world focuses on Ghouta, Rajasingham also watches another humanitarian disaster in Syria. It's happening in Idlib, the northern province that's one of the last main rebel-held parts of the country. More than a million people fled here from other parts of Syria, but now it's also under attack. And the fighting means that hundreds of thousands of Syrians are on the move again. They huddle in open fields and makeshift camps near the Turkish border, and Rajasingham says aid agencies aren't sure how to cope.

RAJASINGHAM: It's already a disaster. It's a disaster in many ways. It's a humanity disaster. It's a human rights disaster. It's a political disaster. It's a disaster in every single aspect.

SHERLOCK: I ask him what the failure of the U.N. vote for a cease-fire means for the future of Syria. He says the warring factions have to realize they simply won't get what they want using their weapons.

RAJASINGHAM: There is no military solution to this crisis. We've learned from experience from many of the humanitarian crises in the past. Down the road, perhaps even a generation after this, there will be a resumption of a crisis again because there are many things that have been left unsettled.

SHERLOCK: He says for now, aid organizations will try again to get help to the civilians. Ruth Sherlock, NPR News, near the Turkey-Syria border. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ruth Sherlock is an International Correspondent with National Public Radio. She's based in Beirut and reports on Syria and other countries around the Middle East. She was previously the United States Editor for the Daily Telegraph, covering the 2016 US election. Before moving to the US in the spring of 2015, she was the Telegraph's Middle East correspondent.