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North Korea Is Sending Weapons Parts To Syria, Draft Report Says


A cease-fire in Syria didn't last long, and about 400,000 people remain trapped in Eastern Ghouta. The Damascus suburb is being pounded by airstrikes. More than 500 people have been killed in just over a week. And a Russian plan to open a pathway for humanitarian workers to get much needed aid to civilians never actually happened. NPR's Ruth Sherlock has been following developments. She joins us now. Ruth, what are you hearing is happening outside Ghouta today?

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Well, it seems as though all these efforts to make a cease-fire, a 30-day cease-fire that was voted in on by the U.N. on Saturday to make this happen, are failing. And, if anything, the violence has actually stepped up. The Syrian government has launched a ground war. It was pummeling the area with airstrikes, and now it's trying to take the territory back with its forces and with pro-regime militias. We reached Hamza Birqdar (ph), who's a spokesman for the Army of Islam, one of the main rebel groups in the area, and asked him about the situation.

HAMZA BIRQDAR: (Foreign language spoken).

SHERLOCK: So he's saying the airstrikes are continuing. He says that the humanitarian situation is terrible, and this waterfall of blood is being spilled because of the crimes of the regime and its supporters, Russia and Iran. But in fact the fighting is happening on both sides. Rebels have stepped up, shelling attacks on central Damascus, as well, that have killed dozens of people in recent weeks.

MARTIN: But there was this plan - right? - sponsored by Russia to set up this route for aid to get in and for civilians, especially those injured, to get out. Why didn't that work?

SHERLOCK: Well, exactly. So it's, you know, it's a brief window for these civilians to escape. There's meant to be a pause in the fighting for five hours of every day, in which the first day was yesterday, through which they can kind of get out of this humanitarian corridor. But what actually happened was the fighting continued. It doesn't seem that civilians were able to leave, and the United Nations says that they were not able to get any aid in to people because the violence was so extreme. And, you know, this shows that Russia's a key actor in Syria, and it's one of the main supporters of the Syrian regime. And it's seen as one of the main players that can actually enforce change on the ground. But this is a key test for them, and it shows how difficult it is to actually influence the fighting there.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, there's a report today saying that the Syrian government is getting components for chemical weapons to use against civilians, and they're getting them from the regime in North Korea. What can you tell us about that?

SHERLOCK: Yes. So North Korea and the Syrian regime have had a long, pretty close relationship. And now this new United Nations report, which is confidential but has been reported on by The New York Times, says that North Korea has been shipping supplies to the Syrian government that could be used in the production of chemical weapons. That includes acid-resistant tiles, valves, thermometers, according to U.N. investigators. Now, the Syrian regime has been accused by the United Nations' investigators of using chemical weapons in the past, and there's recent reports of chlorine gas attacks in Ghouta. The U.S., the U.K. and France have come out and said that there may be military action if it is proven that the Syrian regime is continuing to use chemical weapons.

MARTIN: NPR's Ruth Sherlock for us this morning. Thanks, Ruth.

SHERLOCK: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ruth Sherlock is an International Correspondent with National Public Radio. She's based in Beirut and reports on Syria and other countries around the Middle East. She was previously the United States Editor for the Daily Telegraph, covering the 2016 US election. Before moving to the US in the spring of 2015, she was the Telegraph's Middle East correspondent.