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Aid Agencies Monitor As Syria Cease-Fire Appears To Hold

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Reporters visiting a Russian airbase in Syria today said they saw dozens of warplanes sitting idle on the tarmac. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says the cease-fire in Syria, now in its fourth day, is largely holding, though some attacks continue against terror groups, mainly ISIS, that are not part of the agreement. The point of what diplomats call this cessation of hostilities in Syria is twofold - get peace talks restarted and get help to a suffering population. U.S.-based Mercy Corps is one of the humanitarian groups hoping to do that. We reached the program director for Syria across the border in Turkey, Dalia Al-Awqati. Good morning.

DALIA AL-AWQATI: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: What is this cease-fire - this cessation of hostilities, as it's called - what is it allowing you to do?

AL-AWQATI: Well, we've been able to get aid into Syria pretty consistently over the past several years. But then, I would say in the past six months, that has become more and more challenged. And especially, as we saw in February, the increased attacks and the increased difficulties means that we weren't able to get aid to all the locations in a safe manner. So with the cease-fire, we see the hostilities on one part slowing down, but we still see a continued attack on different areas. And the conditions today are still making it difficult to deliver aid.

MONTAGNE: Can you describe for us a place and a group of people that Mercy Corps has been able to help already or will in the coming days because of this cease-fire?

AL-AWQATI: Yes. As a result of the cease-fire, we're able to actually provide assistance in some of the villages west of Aleppo city where we were having difficulties reaching before because of the intensified attacks around those areas. And so we're able to provide now - ship assistance into there and, of course, provide assistance to people who need it.

MONTAGNE: Given your intimacy with this terrible civil war, what is your assessment of the cease-fire and the opportunity that it might or might not hold?

AL-AWQATI: Well, we see it as a possible opportunity. But to be quite honest, I think it's a bit too early to tell. We come from a background of working in a very fluid situation where things change overnight. And, you know, this is - it's difficult to be able to forecast a few days in. We're hopeful that it will hold, but to be able to see the scope of the opportunity is quite difficult at the moment. Of course, anything that enhances the protection of civilians is welcome. But this could still be an opportunity to scale up military action against other - in other locations.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you very much for joining us.

AL-AWQATI: My pleasure.

MONTAGNE: Dalia Al-Awqati is with the aid group Mercy Corps. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.