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Syria

In central Damascus, it's perfectly clear that President Bashar Assad is firmly in control. In the souks of the Old City, his face looks out of almost every shop window, pinned up next to gold jewelry or intricate rugs. No one has a bad word to say about him, at least not to a Western journalist.

In rebel enclaves nearby, forces loyal to Assad are creeping back into control. After years of siege tactics, opposition forces in the suburbs of Damascus are increasingly making deals that see their fighters heading into rebel-held areas.

The U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition fired more than three dozen airstrikes at what it believed was an ISIS position outside the eastern Syrian city of Deir al-Zour in September. But the strikes actually killed troops loyal to the Syrian government, and that prompted a military investigation into what went wrong.

That investigation has now concluded that it was a series of human errors that caused the faulty targeting, as NPR's Tom Bowman tells our Newscast unit. "The Syrian government has said 62 were killed, but U.S. investigators could only confirm 15," he added.

When the last remaining hospital in besieged eastern Aleppo crumbled under a wave of artillery strikes on Nov. 18, one of the casualties was 25-year-old nurse Kefah.

"The last time he called me was one night before he was killed," says Dr. A.M. — an intensive care specialist based in Detroit who, for the past four years, has been providing training and support via Skype and WhatsApp to medical staff in Aleppo. He asked that we only use his initials because the Syrian government has persecuted doctors — and their families — for treating rebels.

In Syria, thousands of civilians are fleeing eastern Aleppo as pro-government forces advance on rebel-held territory.

The city has been divided between the regime-held west and rebel-controlled east since 2012. Now, as The Two-Way reported Sunday, government forces are pushing to split the rebel-held territory in half.

Warplanes repeatedly bombed a complex of three schools in northern Syria on Wednesday in what UNICEF is calling one of the deadliest attacks on schools since the conflict began more than five years ago.

"This is a tragedy. It is an outrage. And if deliberate, it is a war crime," said UNICEF Director Anthony Lake. "Children lost forever to their families ... teachers lost forever to their students ... one more scar on Syria's future."

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Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters

Aleppo resident Abdul Kafi Al Hamdo doesn't sleep for more than two hours at a time anymore. He's always restless.

"Every hour, every half-hour I get up," he says. "Sometimes I can't get back to sleep because of the sounds of shelling, rockets. But I have to make sure that my wife is OK, that my daughter is OK." 

The University of Aleppo English teacher can't shake his terror, even when his eyes are shut. 

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Omar Sanadiki/Reuters

As the brutal civil war in Syria grinds on in its fifth year, it's clear that civilians have borne the brunt of the tragedy. 

Syrian and Russian armed forces are regularly criticized for bombing civilians in rebel-held areas.

That's well documented in media reports. 

But people like Michael Beshara, a Syrian American who lives in upstate New York, argue that the Western media's portrayal of the war in Syria glosses over the human tragedy in government-controlled areas.

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Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters

Even by the grim standards of Syria’s five-year-old civil war, the news from Aleppo has been particularly shocking in recent days. 

Syrian military forces and their Russian allies appear to be trying to wipe out whatever remains of the opposition in the northern city with an intense bombing campaign. 

Warplanes were pounding rebel-held areas of Aleppo hours after Syria's government launched a new offensive amid the collapse of a cease-fire earlier this week — and internationally renowned rescue volunteers say their centers are being targeted by the airstrikes.

The regime announced the offensive on state media Thursday. "A Syrian military official said airstrikes and shelling in Aleppo might continue for an extended period and the operation will expand into a ground invasion of rebel-held districts," The Associated Press reported, quoting Syrian state media.

Social media have become home to two things in recent years: memes and public shaming.

Both came into play Monday night when Donald Trump Jr. tweeted an image of a bowl of Skittles, comparing Syrian refugees to poisoned candy. "If I had a bowl of Skittles and I told you three would kill you, would you take a handful?" the meme asks. "That's our Syrian refugee problem."

The Syrian military announced Monday it is no longer observing a cease-fire brokered by the U.S. and Russia to allow food and medicine into besieged areas.

Seven days after the agreement was reached by Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar Assad, and the U.S., which backs anti-Assad rebels, the regime blamed the truce's collapse on the rebels, and unilaterally declared that the cease-fire is over.

NPR's Alice Fordham reports this about the cease-fire:

A Syrian cease-fire went into effect at sundown on Monday, at approximately 11:45 a.m. EDT.

Just hours before the start of the planned cease-fire, Syrian President Bashar Assad announced on state media that he plans to "reclaim every area from the terrorists," The Associated Press reports. Assad's government had earlier indicated it would abide by the negotiated truce.

The aerial footage shows bright beach umbrella, palm trees, swimming families, jet skis. The sun is shining. The music is upbeat.

The message? "Syria: Always Beautiful."

Over the last few weeks, the Syrian government's Ministry of Tourism has released more than a dozen videos on Youtube, each promoting the charms of Syria as a travel destination.

One video spotlights ancient ruins — with no acknowledgment that many cities in Syria are new ruins, destroyed by the brutal civil war raging there.

Kim Malcolm speaks with University of Washington professor Ali Mokdad about a study he led which shows the conflict in Syria has shaved years off the life expectancy of people in that country. 

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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