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Dozens Killed In Airstrike On Syrian Refugee Camp


In Syria, the day started with some hope that efforts to revive the cease-fire might gain traction. But now there's been a new episode of terrible violence. Opposition activists say more than 30 people were killed in a camp for displaced persons, people who had fled from other parts of Syria. They believe it was an airstrike.

NPR's Alice Fordham is following the developments from Beirut. Alice, what do we know about this attack?

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Well, as you say, Robert, people on the ground believe that it was an airstrike committed by the Syrian regime. Now, if that's true, if - it's a pattern that we have seen frequently in Northern Syria of targeting areas which are dominated by the opposition to President Bashar al-Assad. The aftermath of this particular strike was documented in videos where we could see blue-top (unintelligent) burned and flattened, women and children injured and crying as they were evacuated piled up in a truck, you know, domestic items like notebooks and cooking pans in these piles of burnt mess there.

Now, the regime and its - Russia and other allies often say that they are hitting extremists. And there are extremists close to this area, but there's been a pattern of civilian infrastructure being hit - markets, schools, hospitals, camps. The Obama administration issued statements saying that this was in keeping with government actions in the past and called it indefensible.

SIEGEL: Now, the cease-fire brought some calm to Syria when it started two months ago. It seems to have been falling apart. Where does this leave it?

FORDHAM: Yeah, it does look rather unconvincing. This cease-fire or cessation of hostilities, as it was called, was initially, you know, hammered out between Russia and the U.S. at the end of February. And the idea was that each of these superpowers could pressure their allies into stopping fighting so that negotiations could take place on political solutions in Syria and also on things like aid getting to parts of Syria where people are starving.

But there are factions who weren't included in the cease-fire, like the al-Qaida affiliate. There's a debate about where those extremists are and so where can be targeted legitimately, which muddies things. And it also wasn't and isn't clear that either of these superpowers had the will or the leverage to stop their allies fighting.

So recently there's been a spike in violence between the government and rebels in the large city of Aleppo after regime airstrikes started on civilian areas again. In one case last week, a hospital that was supported by Doctors Without Borders was bombed in an airstrike, again, where only the government and the Russians were thought to be flying. And some rebel forces do seem to be targeting civilians also.

SIEGEL: Alice, does the ongoing violence in Syria mean that there's no hope for the talks?

FORDHAM: Well, analysts have actually pointed out that - it's worth noting - it's not so much surprising that the cease-fire has been flailing but that it ever worked at all given that the regime in particular has a lot of incentive to continue fighting at the moment. It has, militarily, the upper hand in lots of areas. So perhaps there's some hope to be drawn from the fact that the talks happened at all, that the pause happened at all.

Yesterday at the U.N. Security Council, we heard impassioned pleas for there to be more humanitarian access to areas which are besieged mainly by forces loyal to the regime. We heard condemnation of the violence in Aleppo, calls for a resumption of the truce. And for all that to be followed today by what seems to be a brutal attack targeting civilians doesn't, you know, indicate that those pleas are meeting receptive ears in Damascus.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Alice Fordham in Beirut. Alice, thanks.

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

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