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U.N. Condemns Forced Evacuations Of Besieged Cities In Syria

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The man leading the effort to aid the people of Syria says the world failed the citizens of Darayya. That's the suburb of Damascus that was effectively starved into submission. The U.N. now wants to make sure that what happened in Darayya is not repeated. NPR's Michele Kelemen has more.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Jan Egeland has been advising the U.N. envoy on Syria on humanitarian access and says it was heartbreaking to watch what happened in Darayya. The last inhabitants of the rebel-held town evacuated, essentially forced to leave their homes after four years under siege. Egeland is clearly worried that the Syrian government is trying to repeat that strategy elsewhere in much larger towns.

JAN EGELAND: A siege is not broken by the population giving up of after starvation and after bombing. A siege is lifted by humanitarian access and freedom of movement in and out by the civilian population.

KELEMEN: Egeland told reporters in Geneva today that the U.N. only managed to reach three of the 18 besieged cities in Syria in August, and the Syrian government hasn't even responded to his requests for more access this month.

EGELAND: September must be better. It can be better, should be better.

KELEMEN: He says Syrians living under siege elsewhere are pleading for help. About 2,000 Syrians left Darayya under a deal the Syrian government negotiated with the rebels without U.N. involvement. The U.N. envoy on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, says other besieged cities are facing similar pressures now.

STAFFAN DE MISTURA: If Darayya was a shock, Al-Waer is 75,000 people, OK? Just to give an idea.

KELEMEN: He's been holding out hope that the U.S. and Russia can get the warring sides back to a cease-fire and restart negotiations. De Mistura says there's no military solution to this war.

DE MISTURA: You can take over the city. We've already seen it. You can actually destroy a city. You can empty a city, but then what is the next step?

KELEMEN: He was hoping to restart peace talks last month, but now says he's looking for some progress before the U.N. General Assembly later this month. Secretary of State John Kerry was on the phone again today with his Russian counterpart, according to Kerry's spokesman John Kirby.

JOHN KIRBY: Everybody continues to be extraordinarily frustrated by the situation on the ground in Syria, the secretary no less among them.

KELEMEN: But while Kirby says the international community has obligations to help end this war, it's Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, who is besieging and bombing cities and, quote, "failing his people." Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.