Geneva Talks “Already Dead” as Syria Faces Unprecedented Humanitarian Crisis, Imploding Opposition

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The United Nations is warning Syria has become the most dangerous crisis for global peace and security since World War II. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said that the situation in Syria has “deteriorated beyond all imagination,” while António Guterres, head of the U.N. refugee agency, has described it as “the most dangerous crisis for global peace and security since the Second World War.” Ban has demanded that both sides stop fighting before attending a proposed conference to find a political solution to the conflict in January. We go to the Syrian-Turkish border to speak with Aitor Zabalgogeazkoa of Doctors Without Borders and with Independent correspondent Patrick Cockburn, whose latest report is “Starving in Syria: The Biggest Emergency in the U.N.’s History.” Cockburn has reported extensively from Syria and recently returned from Iraq.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to the latest in Syria. Doctors Without Borders is reporting more than a hundred people have been killed since Syrian army helicopters began attacking the rebel-held city of Aleppo four days ago. The dead include at least 28 children.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said that the situation in Syria has, quote, “deteriorated beyond all imagination.” He insisted that both sides stop fighting before attending a proposed conference to find a political solution to the conflict in January.

SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN KI-MOON: The humanitarian situation continues to worsen. We have started distributing winter aid to help people cope with the harsh conditions that are taking hold. We must also overcome the severe and chronic underfunding of the relief effort. The 2014 appeal for Syria, launched today in Geneva, is the biggest in the history of the United Nations—$6.5 billion to meet needs inside Syria and to help the more than two million people who have fled the country. I call for generous support, including at the pledging conference I will convene on January 15th in Kuwait.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaking on Monday. António Guterres, head of the U.N. refugee agency, has described Syria as, quote, “the most dangerous crisis for global peace and security since the Second World War.”

Meanwhile, the Reuters news agency is reporting Western nations have indicated to the Syrian opposition that peace talks next month may not lead to the removal of President Bashar al-Assad and that his Alawite minority will remain key in any transitional administration.

AMY GOODMAN: One senior member of the Syrian National Coalition told Reuters, quote, “Our Western friends made it clear in London that Assad cannot be allowed to go now because they think chaos and an Islamist militant takeover would ensue.” The United States recently suspended aid to rebel groups after six opposition groups came together last month to form the Islamic Front, which seeks to establish an Islamic state in Syria.

We to now to Patrick Cockburn, Middle East correspondent for The Independent. His latest piece is headlined “Starving in Syria: The Biggest Emergency in the U.N.’s History.” He returned earlier this month from Iraq.

Patrick, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about this crisis in Syria, what you found and what is generating, the latest developments.

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, it’s been getting worse and worse for the last three years, and now there are six million people who have been displaced. Two million are out of the country. But people who were just getting by before are not getting by now. When you walk around Damascus, you keep running into—I keep running into people, you know, who just have nowhere to go, who are sleeping in parks. Buildings are crowded with refugees. They’re a bit less visible than refugees outside the country. If you’re in government-held areas, you can get a sort of cheap bread. But if you’re not, then people are living on the edge of starvation. They’re also being bombed. The government policy seems to be to depopulate areas that they don’t hold. So, this is sort of incremental, getting worse and worse. And, of course, the snows have started, so people are literally beginning to freeze to death.

AMY GOODMAN: Patrick, we want to go for a moment to the border between Turkey and Syria to Aitor Zabalgogeazkoa, coordinator for Doctors Without Borders. He was just in Aleppo last week. Can you describe the situation in Aleppo, Aitor?


AMY GOODMAN: Hi. Can you describe the situation—I know we don’t have a great phone line. Again, Aitor Zabalgogeazkoa is right on the border. Can you describe the situation that you just came from?

AITOR ZABALGOGEAZKOA: Yeah. In the words of most of the people that we have been talking to, they said this is by far the worst—the worst times in Aleppo, in the eastern part of the city, for the last two years. We just got now the most recent figures. And only in five of the hospitals, which are more or less half of the hospitals that are working in the city, they have received in the last three days 163 dead and 958 wounded—244 of them were children.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And can you talk, Aitor Zabalgogeazkoa, of the shortage in medical supplies not just in Aleppo, but in—throughout the country, and especially the difficulties faced by people living—the millions of people living in rebel-held areas?

AITOR ZABALGOGEAZKOA: The problem is that most of the supplies that they should reach the population under the rebel area are—they should be connected with the aid if it’s theoretically distributed by the United Nations and by the government of Syria, and this is not reaching to the opposition-controlled area. So it is critical that this becomes reality. And it’s also critical that Turkey will [inaudible] and create the path of humanitarian and medical aid to the opposition-controlled areas.

AMY GOODMAN: Aitor, Doctors Without Borders, your organization, has written to the governments involved, demanding an end to the Syrian government’s control of aid, since it limits or bans assistance to opposition areas, particularly medical supplies. Can you talk more about that? And I’m asking folks to bear with us since the line is so bad, but Aitor Zabalgogeazkoa is right on the Syria-and-Turkey border, and we felt it was critical to get this perspective, with you just out of Aleppo.

AITOR ZABALGOGEAZKOA: I’m sorry. I’m losing you. If you’re asking for what is needed, it’s basically everything, because it’s not only about trauma and a need for post-surgical treatment, which is, you know, a very—a very—it’s what we need now in Aleppo city today, but also because the health status of the population is declining, because they are not [inaudible]. So, the fact that [inaudible] care or [inaudible] cannot be treated. It’s also harming the [inaudible] in the population, because they have no access to medication now, they have no access to regular medical care services.

AMY GOODMAN: Aitor, we want to thank you for being with us. We’re sorry the phone line is so bad, but of course the situation is so difficult. Aitor Zabalgogeazkoa is the coordinator for Doctors Without Borders in Syria, talking to us from the Turkey-Syria border. He’s just come out of Aleppo.

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