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Thousands still trapped amid fighting in Eastern Ghouta

Over five million Syrians have fled the country and at least half a million people are estimated to have been killed in the seven-year Syrian war. As fighting continues in Eastern Ghouta, the last rebel-held area near Damascus, little progress has been made on resolving the conflict. Philip Issa of the Associated Press joins Megan Thompson from Beirut for more.

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  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    We turn now to Syria where violence near Damascus continued today. Syrian forces supported by Russian backed air power are fighting in Eastern Ghouta, the last rebel-held area near the capital. Tens of thousands of people are fleeing the area which has been besieged for weeks. More than 3,500 civilians have been killed and as many as 400,000 people remain trapped. The violence in Eastern Ghouta is just the latest battle in a war that marked its seventh anniversary this week. An estimated five million Syrians have fled the country while the death toll is estimated at a staggering half a million people. As the country slides past this grim milestone, there appears to be very little progress in resolving the conflict. Philip Issa has been covering the war for the Associated Press and he joins me now via Skype from Beirut. With all the destruction and devastation and foreign influence in Syria, what the Syrians who you speak to think about Syria the country itself now? I mean is it even the same country that it was? Will it ever be the same country again?

  • PHILIP ISSA:

    I think it's it's almost too early to talk about where the country is heading because there are so many variables and there are so many moving parts there are so many sides that want to see their own interests realized inside Syria. Among the Sunni that I'm speaking to, the ones who left Syria, and the ones who have the means to stay abroad generally are choosing to do so. They say that their country, it's no longer something that they recognize, it looks alien to them and they're going to stay out of it for the foreseeable future.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    The United Nations is again debating how to respond to this latest round of violence in Syria. We saw them issue a cease fire last month that was broken within about a day. I mean, is there any sense that the U.N. has any power now to do anything that would make a difference in Syria?

  • PHILIP ISSA:

    No, there's not that sense. I mean, the Syrians inside Syria are the ones who are trapped in the siege in Ghouta and Afrin, they want action and they realize that actions speak louder than words and to them, what the U.N. the Security Council resolution is simply ink on paper unless it is enforced. And seven years of crisis, seven years of war in Syria, we've seen there is very little will in the international community to actually enforce the resolutions that the Security Council passes to enforce international laws the laws of war that apply here.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    There have been many moments throughout this conflict over the years where it seemed like OK, maybe now there will be a resolution a resolution to this. I mean over the last year, the Islamic State was defeated in Syria and it seemed like OK maybe now this will be a time when the conflict end. But we haven't seen that happen. I mean, why not?

  • PHILIP ISSA:

    Well, the Islamic State was a common foe for a lot of different sides that actually don't have much in common. They have opposing goal, they have opposing aims. So without without that common enemy and we have all the different sides in Syria now getting back to running out for their own aims whether that's that's Russia and Iran trying to set a lot of influence or the United States trying to look for its allies in the war against Islamic State, which was the Kurds. Or you have Turkey which is trying to suppress Kurdish autonomy. I mean, that's what's happened once you remove the Islamic State from the equation. No all these groups have just started fighting each other again.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    All right Philip Issa of the Associated Press. Thank you very much.

  • PHILIP ISSA:

    My pleasure.

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