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Aleppo Residents Trapped Between Syrian Forces And ISIS Militants


The U.S. and its allies continued to carry out airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria over the weekend. When the air campaign began one week ago, among the first targets hit were outside Aleppo. Half of that northern Syrian city is held by moderate rebels, but for months, they've been encircled by government forces and ISIS. To get a glimpse of life under siege, we reached Zaina Erhaim, who's in that part of Aleppo controlled by moderate forces. She's with the Syrian Institute for War and Peace Reporting. Welcome.


CORNISH: First, can you describe, so far, how these airstrikes are being viewed among those who are actually supporting the so-called moderate rebels?

ERHAIM: Actually, I think most of the guys that I've been talking to there were angry 'cause the strikes only target ISIS and al-Nusra and al-Harashan (ph), which are not considered equally evil as ISIS. And they're leaving all the the Islamist jihadist Shia's militia that are fighting on the other side, and they're leaving the regime. So they're only targeting one small part of terrorism.

CORNISH: Now, help us understand the number of forces here fighting. I mean, you mentioned al-Nusra, another Islamist fronts - Baghdadi, the head of ISIS. At this point, who's kind of encircling Aleppo? Where do you see the threat?

ERHAIM: The main threat for now is the regime.

CORNISH: This is the government regime of Syria?

ERHAIM: Yeah, yeah - the regime. They exposed around 300 meters of our only way from Aleppo to Turkey, so we're exposed to thermal rockets. So whenever we pass, we go really fast, expecting a missile hit us any minute. For now, it's only the regime.

CORNISH: What kind of difference have airstrikes made actually in terms of being able to get even in and out of Aleppo?

ERHAIM: Nothing, I believe. Most of the fighters - ISIS, jihadists - they already fled their bases, and they mangle even more in the civilians. Yeah, I know from my friends, they even took their houses. They kick the families out, and they stayed in their houses - from 10 to 15 guys in a house. So whenever the strikes happen at their bases, they're not that much affected.

CORNISH: President Obama has acknowledged that the airstrikes will inevitably help Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. What, if anything, do you think the U.S. and its allies could be doing differently here?

ERHAIM: I think if they can't strike of the ISIL bases, which is the main terror, I can't be convinced that al-Assad is less terrorist than al-Baghdadi, while it is the main danger I'm feeling now. So I think if they can't bomb any of al-Assad's airforce bases - if they can't bomb or finish of the Shia jihadist militias that are fighting on this side, they can't prevent Hezbollah from coming into Syria. And I don't believe these strikes can defeat ISIS.

I don't know. They are only helping the regime. They're only terrorizing the civilians. And those are very smart guys down there. They left them for two years to develop to this - to this very powerful caliphate. If they bombed them two years ago, we wouldn't have this caliphate at all.

CORNISH: At this point, what sense do you have of how members of the Free Syrian Army are actually feeling about the airstrikes and how they're feeling about it contributing to their own effort?

ERHAIM: Many even are asking me to get out every single moment because they think, now it's not our war. It's not out revolution anymore. It's just a U.S. war against terrorism. It's not even war to help the Syrian people. It's something else. So we don't feel that this is ours. We don't feel that we have to interfere. It's foreigners fighting foreigners.

CORNISH: That's Zaina Erhaim with the Syrian Institute for War and Peace Reporting. We reached her in Aleppo. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

ERHAIM: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.