Syria

Syria's main opposition group is calling for the U.S.-led coalition to suspend its airstrike campaign against ISIS after reports of dozens of civilian deaths close to the Turkish border.

As NPR's Alison Meuse told our Newscast unit, reports suggest the strike near the northern town of Manbij is the "largest civilian death toll since the intervention began." She added that "both the opposition and [Syrian President Bashar] Assad's regime put the death toll above 120 killed." Here's more from Alison:

Imagine you've been hungry for the past four years. When the bombing isn't too bad, you can grow a little spinach and beans, and sometimes some smuggled lentils or rice get past the Syrian army checkpoints. But there's no milk for babies and your children have never seen a piece of fruit.

This kind of siege warfare sounds medieval, but in Syria, it is reality for hundreds of thousands of people. Most live in opposition areas, surrounded by Syrian government forces. And one of the most desperate places is Daraya, just to the southwest of the capital Damascus.

More than 50 U.S. State Department officials have signed an internal memo calling for a change in the way the United States approaches Syria — specifically, advocating military pressure on Bashar Assad's regime to push him toward the negotiating table.

The diplomats expressed their opposition to the current U.S. policy through a cable on the State Department's dissent channel — which exists for just that reason.

But NPR's Michele Kelemen reports that it's unusual for so many officials to sign on to such a cable.

At least 12 people were killed and 55 injured in twin bombings near a revered shrine outside Syria's capital Damascus, Syrian state media reports.

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the attacks via its Aamaq news agency but says there were actually three suicide bombings, according to The Associated Press.

Syrian President Bashar Assad is sounding rather confident these days. In his first major address in the past two months, he promised that his troops will reclaim "every inch" of Syrian territory.

"We have no other choice but to be victorious," Assad told Syria's parliament on Tuesday. He also lashed out at rebels, blaming them for the failure of peace talks backed by the United Nations.

Khaldiya Jibawi dreams of being a documentary filmmaker.

And she's off to a great start.

The 18-year-old Syrian refugee made her first film in a refugee camp in Jordan, and it's been shown at Sundance, SXSW and the Cannes Film Festival, to name a few. This weekend, her documentary shows at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

A convoy carrying much-needed aid, including medicine and baby milk, has reached the besieged suburb of Daraya in Syria's capital. Less than a month ago, a convoy was turned away by government forces.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations and the Red Crescent — an aid organization active in the Muslim world — coordinated the effort to get supplies to the Damascus suburb.

It's the first delivery of its kind to the town since 2012.

The Red Cross announced the convoy's arrival on Twitter:

More than 2 million Syrians have fled to Turkey, driven out by the fighting that erupted in their homeland in 2011. But none can claim an odyssey quite like that of Mohammed Faris.

As Syria's first and only cosmonaut, Mohammed Faris rocketed into orbit with two Soviet colleagues in 1987. He conducted experiments and photographed his country from space. By the time he returned to Syria, most everyone in the country knew his name.

A long-anticipated international convoy carrying desperately needed aid to Daraya, a besieged suburb of Damascus, was refused entry by Syrian government forces.

The International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations said in a joint statement that the convoy was refused entry "at the last government checkpoint, despite having obtained prior clearance by all parties that it could proceed."

In her suburban London row house, Margit Goodman, 94, sits wrapped in blankets in her favorite recliner.

She was a girl of 17 when she first came to Britain, escaping from her native Prague just before the Germans invaded. She remembers the exact date: June 5, 1939.

"When I left, [Czechoslovakia] was still a free country," she recalls. "But we soon became occupied by the Germans."

Raed Al Saleh has seen the city of Aleppo in dire straits before. As the head of the Syrian Civil Defense, he leads missions to find survivors after air raids and missile strikes.

But this week even he was shocked by the intensity of the attacks. The past few days in Aleppo are the worst the city has seen since the Syrian uprisings began five years ago, he says.

Airstrikes in Syria's largest city killed more than a dozen people at a well-known hospital, says aid group Doctors Without Borders, adding that the violence claimed one of the last pediatricians working in Aleppo.

"We are outraged at the destruction of Al Quds hospital," the group said in a tweet Thursday, saying that the facility included an intensive care unit and an emergency room.

A friend of the pediatrician who died told NPR's Alice Fordham via Skype that Mohammed Wassim Moaz was "very kind" and that the children in Aleppo "love him very much."

As the Two-Way reported on Sunday, the Syrian government says its forces have retaken the desert city of Palmyra, in the center of Syria.

The self-declared Islamic State seized the city in May of last year — and soon unleashed a wave of destruction on its defenders, inhabitants and archaeological treasures.

Syrian kids who passed through Milan's Central Station last year did something very Italian: create artwork. While they waited for trains to take them to northern Europe, Save the Children offered them a chance to draw. They could depict whatever they wanted, says psychologist Vittoria Ardino, president of the Italian Society for the Study of Traumatic Stress, who analyzed 500 of these images.

Basketball As A Way Out Of Syria's War

Mar 16, 2016

Editor's Note: Hozaifa Almaleh made his name as a basketball player in Syria. The sport also provided an avenue out of the country as it suffers through a devastating civil war. As the country marks five years since the start of the uprising, the 6-foot-5 Almaleh reflects on the game — and the war — that has led him to Chicago.

Russian President Vladimir Putin just made another shrewd and decisive move with his surprising decision to start withdrawing forces from Syria. Or, the Russian leader was overextended abroad and short of cash at home and was looking for a quick exit.

Putin wants everyone to believe the former, claiming the Russian airstrikes and the Syrian government army have achieved a "fundamental turnaround in the fight against international terrorism."

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday he has ordered the withdrawal of the majority of Russian troops from Syria. The pullout, which he said was coordinated with Syrian President Bashar Assad, is slated to begin Tuesday.

Speaking in a meeting with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Putin said the objective of Russia's intervention — disrupting ISIS and other terror groups — had "been fulfilled," and had laid the groundwork for more intense peace talks.

The fifth year of the Syrian conflict was the worst yet for civilians — and Russia, the U.S., France and Britain are partly to blame. That's according to a new report from 30 aid and human rights groups, including Oxfam and Care International.

A new report by Save the Children, an international charity, details what it's like to struggle amid the war in cities and towns in Syria. Based on interviews and focus groups with people living and working in besieged areas, the report says at least quarter-million children are in constant fear and deprivation.

A Turkish court has sentenced two Syrian nationals to four years in prison each in a case tied to the drowning death of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi and four others.

Photos of 3-year-old Alan's body lying facedown on a Turkish beach in September 2015 produced a groundswell of global sympathy for people fleeing violence in the Middle East and North Africa, and laid bare the human cost of their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean.

Spain's national police seized 20,000 military uniforms — in a variety of camouflage styles — that the authorities say were headed for ISIS and jihadists in Syria.

Spain's Interior Ministry says the large shipment, which weighed more than 5 tons, was part of a "very active and effective business network" that had sent supplies and war materiel to ISIS.

The uniforms were found in three shipping containers that were intercepted at ports in Valencia and Algeciras.

From Madrid, Lauren Frayer reports for our Newscast unit:

Less than four months after it started accepting Syrian refugees, Canada says it has reached its goal of bringing in 25,000 people who have fled the raging civil war.

At a rehabilitation center in Turkey, just over the border from Syria, Bassam Farouh raises and lowers leg weights, wincing and holding onto a rail.

The gray-haired Farouh is a Syrian rebel fighter who battled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's army for years, until he was wounded in a Russian airstrike on his hometown across the border two months ago.

"It wasn't a war at first, it was a revolution against the system," he says. "We were trying to take a stance against the system and that led us here."

Syria's cessation of hostilities is largely holding on its third day, even as the main opposition umbrella group accuses the Syrian regime of violations.

Riad Hijab, the opposition's general coordinator, wrote a letter to the U.N. Secretary-General detailing the alleged breaches of the truce, which was brokered by the U.S. and Russia. The letter reads, in part:

A whistle shrills, and a dozen boys tear across a gray schoolyard. Some are in sneakers, others have bare feet slapping the concrete. "This is a physical education class," announces Metin Yildiz, the director of education at Elbeyli refugee camp in southern Turkey.

About 24,000 Syrians have been living in this government-run camp for three years, costing the Turkish government $3 million a month, and our guides are keen to show us Turkish classes, a kindergarten, a computer lab, an art display.

A "cessation of hostilities" has come into effect in Syria at midnight local time (5 p.m. EST).

The temporary pause in fighting was brokered by the U.S. and Russia, and is meant to be a confidence-building measure to jump-start peace talks between the warring parties. It includes the Syrian government and the main opposition bloc.

It wouldn't end all the violence that's torn at Syria for years now, but two key parties — President Bashar Assad's government and a main opposition group — have agreed to a truce, according to a joint statement by the U.S. and Russia.

In an interview, Syrian President Bashar Assad accused more than 80 countries of supporting terrorists in Syria, and he said he wants to go down in history as "the one who saved his country."

Saying he won't hold Syrian peace negotiations until there's a chance of success, U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura is delaying talks that had been slated for next Thursday.

"We need real talks about peace, not just talks about talks," de Mistura says.

The envoy discussed the delay in an interview with Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, saying he can't "realistically" call for negotiations on Feb. 25.

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