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Syria

Cari Conklin is helping to throw a birthday bash for Syrian refugees in the Seattle area.
KUOW photo/Liz Jones

More than 200 Syrian refugees have been resettled in Washington state. And this New Year’s Day, many in the Seattle area plan to gather for a special party. It’s an important date, but not why you might expect. 


Agreement Reached On Syria Cease-Fire

Dec 29, 2016

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced in Moscow that the Syrian government and Syrian opposition forces have agreed to a nationwide cease-fire to begin at midnight local time.

The Syrian army said the agreement excludes the Islamic State as well as Jabhat Fateh al Sham — the group formerly known as the Nusra Front — and all groups linked to them. Turkey's foreign ministry said the agreement excludes groups the U.N. deems terrorist organizations.

Evacuations continue from east Aleppo, as remaining rebels and civilians wait in freezing weather for transportation out of the city.

The end of the evacuations may be coming soon: NPR's Alice Fordham reports that regime forces might be entering the tiny enclave that has been held by rebels as early as Thursday evening.

The fall of eastern Aleppo to the forces aligned with Syrian President Bashar Assad has been a foregone conclusion for weeks now. The question was whether civilians and fighters would be allowed to leave.

Rita Zawaideh of Salaam Cultural Museum
KUOW Photo/Katherine Banwell

Bill Radke talks with Rita Zawaideh, who runs the humanitarian nonprofit Salaam Cultural Museum in Seattle, about the current struggles of Syrian people in Aleppo. 

Evacuations of embattled eastern Aleppo, which began Thursday after days of efforts to negotiate a cease-fire, have come to a halt.

Thousands of civilians and fighters have already been evacuated from the rebel-held enclave: Some 3,000 civilians were evacuated in the first few convoys, along with more than 40 wounded people, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday.

The aid group anticipated it would take days to fully evacuate east Aleppo.

After years of devastating war, days of increasing desperation and the collapse of one cease-fire, evacuations are underway in besieged eastern Aleppo.

Live images on Syrian state TV showed ambulances entering the rebel-held enclave on Thursday morning to evacuate the wounded. Aid groups confirm that evacuations have begun — despite reports of a brief burst of gunfire targeting ambulances.

As President Bashar Assad's army pushes into the last few neighborhoods controlled by rebels in Aleppo, the Syrian leader can claim a stronger position than at any point since the early days of a war that broke out in 2011.

This doesn't mean Syria's bloodletting is over, but it is entering a new phase.

Assad acknowledged this in an interview Wednesday with Russian television:

Updated at 8:00 p.m. ET

A cease-fire in besieged eastern Aleppo appears to be going forward, paving the way for people trapped there to evacuate.

It's difficult to confirm exactly how many civilians remain in the small slice of Aleppo still controlled by rebel groups, but estimates put the number in the tens of thousands.

NPR's Alison Meuse reports an opposition activist in the city says the bombing has stopped.

As the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad advanced on the last rebel-held section of Aleppo, aid groups and activists described horrific scenes of death and bloodshed.

Now rebel groups say a truce has been reached with Russia, and there's hope that civilian evacuations will be possible on Tuesday night.

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."

R
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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