In Syria, Russian forces stepped up attacks on opponents of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, bombing more than 50 targets over the past day. Sam Dagher, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype from Beirut, to discuss the situation.
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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:
In neighboring Syria, Russian force anniversary stepped up their attack on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Russia's military says it bombed more than 50 targets in the past 24 hours, supporting pro-government ground troops fighting rebel groups.
Join me now via Skype from Beirut to discuss the situation in Syria is "Wall Street Journal" reporter Sam Dagher.
Sam, we have heard in the past few days of the Russians attacking different positions in Syria by land, air, and sea.
SAM DAGHER, WALL STREET JOURNAL:
That is correct, Harry.
But they've been primarily targeting the non-ISIS fighters. These are rebels in the western half of the country. These are Islamist rebels, as well as relatively moderate rebels linked to the so-called Free Syrian Army, which has received assistance in the past from the United States, including antitank missiles.
So, this puts the U.S. in a position where people that they have supported on the ground against President Bashar al-Assad are now being attacked by the Russians.
Not just that. I mean, you have to also look at the repercussions of what the Russians are doing.
First of all, by focusing on these groups, they're allowing ISIS to exploit the situation, and we've seen that already happen in Aleppo. ISIS took advantage of the fact that, you know, its rivals, these other rebel groups, are preoccupied, fending off regime forces who are trying to fight them with Russian support. So what ISIS did in northeast Aleppo is capture least 10 villages yesterday from the rebels, as well as a very important base. It's called the Infantry Academy, northeast of the city of Aleppo, and this is something that the rebels captured from the regime in 2012.
Second of all, you also have to look at what's happening on the ground, which could be exacerbating the refugee crisis, because a lot of people are fleeing the villages that are being hit by the Russians. These are people primarily — we're seeing reports of thousands of people leaving villages in the Hama countryside where an offensive is under way by the regime and its allies, the Iranians and the Shiite fighters from Lebanon and elsewhere, who are being backed by the Russians from the air.
So, people are fleeing these villages and going to Idlib, which is next door. Idlib is primarily held by the rebels. So, that potentially could be making the refugee situation much worse, and these are people who have already been displaced from other parts of the country.
A third consideration as well is the sectarian overtones of what's going on. The Russians and the Syrian regime and their allies are targeting predominantly Sunni villages, and the area of the operation right now is the — is basically the principal sectarian fault line in Syria separating Sunnis from the Shiite-linked Alawites, to which Bashar al-Assad belongs. So, there are worrying sectarian overtones here. People from a certain sect, Sunnis, leaving their villages because of these military campaigns that are being backed by the Russians
Sam Dagher of the "Wall Street Journal", joining us via Skype from Beirut — thanks so much.
My pleasure, Hari.