HARI SREENIVASAN: Overseas now: Thousands more civilians fled the eastern rebel-held sectors of Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, this week, as the war there took an even more violent turn.
The Syrian Civil Defense Rescue Group reported that at least 50 people were killed today and 150 injured, amid relentless shelling and bombing.
Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports.
MARGARET WARNER: In the last few days, Syrian government forces have retaken a large swathe of eastern Aleppo, long a stronghold for fighters opposed to President Bashar al-Assad. Aid groups say shortages of food and medical care there are the gravest yet.
QUESTION (through translator): How did your mother die?
WOMAN (through translator): She died of hunger. We haven’t had any water or food for five months. They didn’t feed us. They ate bread, and we were hungry.
MARGARET WARNER: As the death toll keeps mounting, the top U.N. envoy to Syria suggested today the rebels may not be able to hold out.
STAFFAN DE MISTURA, UN Envoy to Syria: This is a military acceleration, and I can’t tell you how long eastern Aleppo will last.
MARGARET WARNER: Major aid groups are still being denied entry to help civilians remaining the city.
BETTINA LUESCHER, World Food Program: We are ready to mobilize food, preposition in warehouses in western Aleppo, or across the border from Turkey, to the people trapped in eastern Aleppo, if access is granted. So, once again, we join — like everybody else, let us get into eastern Aleppo. We can help the people there. Let us in.
MARGARET WARNER: There is not a single working hospital left in east Aleppo either.
MAN: Medical structures that we have been supporting for many years that have been bombed now almost a dozen times over the last year. It’s just incredible.
MARGARET WARNER: And Russian and Syrian planes reportedly have dropped leaflets on east Aleppo, warning: “If you do not leave these areas urgently, you will be annihilated. You know that everyone has given up on you. They left you alone to face your doom.”
RANIA ABOUZEID, Journalist, New America Fellow: You know, the Syrian rebels have always felt abandoned.
MARGARET WARNER: Journalist Rania Abouzeid in Beirut keeps in contact with Western-backed rebel commanders.
RANIA ABOUZEID: They felt abandoned by an international community that said Assad must go, but didn’t really help them to see that through. So there’s a great sense of abandonment, there is a sense of anger.
MARGARET WARNER: The battlefield tilted sharply in Assad’s favor when Russia entered the war 14 months ago. With Russian airpower, and Shiite militias from Iran, Lebanon and Iraq on the ground, the Assad regime has regained its footing and territory.
RANIA ABOUZEID: We have seen several instances in the recent past, over the past year, when it looked like Aleppo might fall, but certainly nothing in terms of the scale and the speed at which we have seen regime gains in the eastern part of the city over the past 24 to 48 hours. So it certainly looks like this might be the decisive moment for the future of rebel-held Aleppo at this point.
MARGARET WARNER: Secretary of State John Kerry keeps pushing for a cease-fire for Aleppo, negotiating with Russia and regional powers backing different rebel factions.
RANIA ABOUZEID: The Syrians have some hope that if the bigger guys, the bigger players can find some sort of agreement. Then perhaps that might trickle down to mean something in terms of the battlefield on the ground.
MARGARET WARNER: But other top Obama officials suspect Russia wants to cement a military victory on the ground now, in the administration’s final weeks.
Said one: “If you’re sitting in Moscow, would you rather deal with President Obama, or present a fait accompli to new President Trump?”
For now, it looks like the rebels want to fight on in Aleppo.
RANIA ABOUZEID: Well, certainly the rebels will try and win it back. But the question is, will they have the means to do that? Will they have the international support to do that? And will this change anything in terms of the calculus of their international backers?
MARGARET WARNER: Questions that will have to be faced by Syria, its neighbors and the new American president alike.
For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Margaret Warner in Washington.