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Uptick In Syria Conflict Keeps Humanitarian Aid Out Of Aleppo


Secretary of State John Kerry gave Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, and his backers a deadline yesterday. Kerry said Assad has to step down by August, or there will be repercussions.


Politicians have been trying for over five years now in various forms to stop the civil war in Syria. But on the ground, the bloodshed has been unrelenting. Jan Egeland knows that all too well. He is the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council and an adviser to the U.N. special envoy for Syria. And he told me the world still doesn't appreciate how grave the situation is in Syria.

JAN EGELAND: Every single day, a mother sends her children to school. She may fear that they will not come back. A wounded goes to the hospital. The hospital may be bombed. There is no respect for international laws or humanitarian principles.

MARTIN: Egeland is trying to get humanitarian aid into parts of Syria that haven't received any for years. But the situation in Aleppo has made that almost impossible.

EGELAND: It couldn't be worse, really. To me, it is the Srebrenica of our day. You will remember the Bosnian town where people were massacred in 1995. And we all said never again. Now it's happening day-in, day-out for years in Aleppo.

MARTIN: The whole reason that this cease-fire was put in place was to provide an opening for humanitarian assistance. What aid have you been able to get to people in the hardest-hit areas?

EGELAND: Well, the cessation of hostilities - it wasn't a full-fledged cease-fire - came into force at the end of February. And it did work, to some extent. The last month, I think we reached 50, 60 percent of the 480,000 in besieged areas. Last year, we reached maybe 3 or 4 percent. So there was progress. That has been unraveling the last days and nights. It has to stop. It cannot continue like this.

MARTIN: So what has that meant for relief efforts?

EGELAND: Much of the aid has been paralyzed. Aid worker colleagues have been killed. We have been able to reach people. But it's absolutely horrific in and around Aleppo, in and around the Homs area.

MARTIN: The cease-fire talks have now moved from Geneva to Moscow. Can you tell us - from your vantage point, what is the focus of the negotiations right now?

EGELAND: Well, there is frantic diplomatic activity at the moment. The Russians and the Americans have a lot of influence on the parties on the ground. So does Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, even European countries. And our hope is to see that we will get convoys through to places that haven't had relief for a long time. But then we need two things - access permits from the government, which they deny us in many cases, and we also need all of the parties to respect our security as we go there. What has happened is that even the aid has been hit and, in many places, been possible to go.

MARTIN: How do you see this ending?

EGELAND: Well, I see it ending in a political agreement. There is no military solution. But there is not a humanitarian solution either. It's not a question of enough blankets, and then we will end it. It is a political solution where the great powers - U.S., Russia - the regional powers - send one united signal to the ground. Enough. Sit down. Agree on a transition to a government that people can respect and to democratic elections.

MARTIN: Is this frustrating for you, I mean, when you say you can't send enough blankets, there's not a humanitarian solution and that it remains a political solution that you don't necessarily have control over?

EGELAND: I mean, it's so frustrating to see that those whom we work day and night to assist are again bleeding to death because of this senseless war where men with arms seem to be willing to fight to the last child and woman. At the same time, it's very fulfilling to see that we can save lives. And we can hold people alive until there is a peaceful settlement.

MARTIN: Jan Egeland is secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council. He's also an adviser to the U.N.'s special envoy on Syria. Thank you so much.

EGELAND: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.