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New routes are allowing earthquake aid to reach rebel parts of Syria

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

People in northern Syria are still reeling from last week's earthquakes and the difficulties of getting aid. And we're going to hear now about the view in Syria. A note on the geography first - there is damage in parts of Syria that's controlled by the government and in areas outside the government's control, held by rebels. Precise numbers of those who have died are difficult to get right now. But at least 2,200 people have died in those opposition areas. But it's been hard to get aid in because of resistance from the government. Just last night, the United Nations announced that Syria has agreed to new routes into the area. NPR's Ruth Sherlock was in the opposition area today and joins us now from Turkey. Hi, Ruth.

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Hi.

CHANG: So I understand you went to a severely damaged town, to a shelter there and to a hospital. What did you hear from people?

SHERLOCK: Well, you know, some of what I heard was, to be honest, just completely gut-wrenching, some of what I saw, too. We went to this hospital where we saw this surgeon who was pale and exhausted. He told us he'd performed maybe 15 amputations on patients, mostly children. And then this photographer had photos of eight dead children that have been as yet unidentified. I actually couldn't look, really. But he's posting those photos in the local police station and local council for anybody who might be searching for them. And, at the moment, those bodies are lying just unclaimed in the hospital morgue. Then doctors took us around the wards, and we arrived in a room where we met Mohammed, who's 8. He had a broken arm and a broken leg and this plastic toy car beside him. We spoke to his great aunt, Yasmine Marjian, to learn more about his story.

YASMINE MARJIAN: (Speaking Arabic).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: They say, for three days until they could, like, dig them out of the rubble.

SHERLOCK: Who's they? Him and...

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: The father and the mother of the kid.

SHERLOCK: Are they alive, his parents?

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: No. They all passed away.

SHERLOCK: Oh, they passed away. He's got a sister, as well?

MOHAMMED: (Speaking Arabic).

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: Yeah. All of them died. He used to have sisters.

SHERLOCK: So he's an orphan now. And Marjian is his closest surviving relative. You know, I said, are you going to take care of him? And she said, I want to, but she's not sure how because her home has also been destroyed in the earthquake.

CHANG: Well, many other people, thousands of people, have lost their homes. I know you visited some people at a makeshift displacement camp. What was it like there?

SHERLOCK: It was this gymnasium with hundreds of families, lots of sounds of children running around. And these families have just literally lain blankets on the hard floor. That's their home now. We met Shadia Afra. She's a mother of four young children who were there with her. Through an interpreter, I asked her how she tries to protect her children from the trauma of what they're experiencing.

SHADIA AFRA: (Through interpreter) Wherever you are in Syria, the small kids, they get way older way too quick from the realities that they witness every single day. There's nothing that they haven't seen yet.

SHERLOCK: You know, this is still a country in a civil war. And this earthquake follows children having survived airstrikes and displacement.

CHANG: Well, what is the latest on trying to get more aid into these areas?

SHERLOCK: Well, this is the reason why we were brought into Syria by this opposition group, this Syrian Emergency Task Force, to highlight the problems of getting aid into Syria. Like you said, you know, the Syrian regime considers bringing aid over the border from Turkey a violation of its sovereignty. And its allies, you know, Russia and China have repeatedly tried to limit, with votes at the U.N. Security Council, limit access across that Turkish border into Syria. But what this group is saying now is that this earthquake highlights the failure of that. They say the United Nations should not be beholden to the regime and its allies and that, in a humanitarian catastrophe like this, aid should be the priority, not politics. And they should have just moved faster because that might have saved more lives.

CHANG: That is NPR's Ruth Sherlock in southern Turkey, just back from a trip into Syria. Thank you so much, Ruth.

SHERLOCK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ruth Sherlock is an International Correspondent with National Public Radio. She's based in Beirut and reports on Syria and other countries around the Middle East. She was previously the United States Editor for the Daily Telegraph, covering the 2016 US election. Before moving to the US in the spring of 2015, she was the Telegraph's Middle East correspondent.