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After Calls For Cease-Fire, Syria Steps Up Bombings


International wrangling to pull together a cease-fire for Syria continues. Today, Secretary of State John Kerry said a, quote, "provisional agreement" has been reached to stop the fighting. No details were released, but he did say a pause in the fighting could begin in the next few days. NPR's Alice Fordham is on the northern Syrian border, reporting from the Turkish side. She joins me now. Hi, Alice.


MARTIN: Does this news of a possible cease-fire seem likely to actually halt fighting in Syria?

FORDHAM: Well, Kerry chose his words very carefully. He didn't say cease-fire. He said cessation of hostilities. Now honestly, I'm not sure what the difference is. But I think the careful choice of words is meant to convey that some military activity will continue.

The various parties have said previously that military action against ISIS won't stop under a cease-fire. And Russia says its airstrikes are targeting ISIS. So that could mean that Russia intends to continue strikes under a cease-fire. And for most of the forces on the ground that we're talking to, that rules out any stopping of fighting for them. Plus, once again, there was no Syrian presence at these talks, and Assad has made many defiant statements about his conditions for a cease-fire.

MARTIN: As you have said, bombing raids continue. The Syrian army stepped up its air campaign with help from Russia in recent days. Any idea how much ground they gained?

FORDHAM: Well, we know that the forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad are pushing forward in the traditional center of his support near the coast and in the rebellious areas around the city of Aleppo. This is propelled by an air campaign that is not led by Russian planes. And many people think this is connected to the ongoing peace talks - trying to ensure that Assad and his allies control as much ground as possible to give them leverage in those talks. It's a victory in the sense of Assad controlling most of Syria's territory is still a distant prospect. And the people that are really squeezed in all of this are the fighters who originally took up arms against Assad, who, despite allegations that there is extremism in their ranks, still insist that they are, you know, moderate or mainstream rebels.

MARTIN: And these are the fighters who we knew as the Free Syrian Army, right?

FORDHAM: Right, exactly. I've been speaking to a few of their representatives and commanders here and over the border in Turkey. And their mood is just grim and pessimistic. They are seeing advances from Russian-backed, ethnically Kurdish-led forces on one side; from ISIS on the other side and from the regime of Bashar al-Assad on the other. And they say - you know, if they don't some sort of international help, they'll be defeated in a few months between these three opponents that they're battling.

MARTIN: So is that likely? Are they likely to get that international help?

FORDHAM: They're not expecting any, really. They say Assad's friends prove to be better friends. They're talking about Assad's allies from the governments of Russia and Iran and other people who have poured blood and treasure into his side of the war. The Free Syrian Army feel very betrayed by the United States and the West, in general, who supported them in principle but whose concrete actions to support them was more limited.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, there's been a huge humanitarian impact of all of this. We see these pictures of tens of thousands of people fleeing the violence. Have you heard anything on that very important issue?

FORDHAM: Yeah. There's tens of thousands of people who are freshly displaced by this fighting. Many of them had been displaced several times before. It's got harder to cross into safety in Turkey, so a lot of them are sleeping rough or in very overcrowded camps. Aid is not getting in as easily as it used to to these areas around the city of Aleppo. There's one last road that it's getting in through, and there's fears that the forces of Bashar al-Assad may even take that road, in which case hundreds of thousands of people would be cut off from help.

MARTIN: NPR's Alice Fordham, speaking to us from the Turkish-Syrian border. Thanks so much, Alice.

FORDHAM: You're quite welcome, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.