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Fragile Truce Takes Hold In Syria, Allowing More Aid Into Besieged Areas


A fragile truce took hold in Syria over the weekend. The fighting hasn't completely stopped, but it's way down, which is more than many expected. Now, this was started by a plan forged by the U.S. and Russia which backs some opposing sides in the war. Designated terror groups including ISIS are not part of the agreement. NPR's Alice Fordham has been monitoring the situation from Turkey and joins us now. Alice, what more can you tell us about what's been happening?

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Well, as you say, Audie, on Saturday, the cease-fire started, which, in itself, was a surprise to quite a lot of people particularly among the opposition forces in Syria. We were speaking to people in areas that had been under bombardment for months or even years. They were describing an almost surreal quiet in those places.

Now, since then, reports of violations have been creeping up. There have been reports of airstrikes. It's not clear whether those have been conducted by the Syrian Air Force or by the Russian warplanes that back them - significantly reduced in number from what they were previously, but nonetheless, it seems likely that some have happened. These reports of violations are being passed on to the United States and Russia who are leading a task force which is monitoring the cease-fire. And even with the violations, it's still a massive drop in violence. I think it's fair to say that everyone is waiting, holding their breath to see whether it holds in a significant way.

CORNISH: And then part of the plan the U.S., Russia and other world powers have made is to call for more humanitarian aid to get into besieged areas. Is that happening?

FORDHAM: Yes, it is. It's happening more slowly than some people would like. Most of those places are hard to reach because they are besieged by regime forces and their allies. There are still some places which are apparently not on the agenda for any aid to get into. Like, there's some rebellious suburbs of Damascus which have rebel fighters in them, but there are still thousands of civilians there who've been cut off from food and medical assistance sometimes for months.

And there are fears, actually, looking to the north, in the city of Aleppo, that up there, a road which is crucial for getting aid into an opposition-held area could be cut off by regime forces which rebels are telling us are still doing some ground operations there. But the aid is moving. People are being reached who weren't being reached before. There's a plan that was started today to reach 154,000 people this week, and that's the U.N. and its partners working together. The first mission was done today.

CORNISH: But does any of this bring the war any closer to a resolution?

FORDHAM: Well, I think it's a step - albeit a very small step - in the right direction - is the general feeling among the people that I'm talking to. There is meant to be a resumption of U.N.-brokered talks between the Syrian regime and the Syrian opposition. That's meant to start on Monday. There's some doubt that might actually happen on Monday, but it's coming at some point in the future.

A lot depends on how the next few days go. If the cease-fire holds, if there really continues to be a dramatic drop in violence, then that would be a basis of trust for talks probably better than we've seen previously. If the violations continue and airstrikes keep creeping up, then it's possible that the whole thing will fall apart. Analysts say that a lot depends on what Russia wants to happen. It's proven itself a really key player both diplomatically and militarily in the conflict, but I haven't spoken to anyone who is absolutely sure what Russia wants to happen next in Syria.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Alice Fordham speaking to us from Istanbul. Alice, thanks so much.

FORDHAM: Thanks for having me, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alice Fordham is an NPR International Correspondent based in Beirut, Lebanon.
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