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Hope For Peace Talks Look Grim As Violence Rages Around Cease Fire

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

In Syria, a cease-fire in the city of Aleppo has been extended until Tuesday, according to Russian officials. The lull has given people there a break after an especially vicious cycle of airstrikes and fighting. But with violence continuing elsewhere, prospects for peace talks don't look bright. NPR's Alice Fordham joins us now from Beirut. And Alice, first of all, what can you tell us about the security situation?

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Well, in Aleppo, people in the opposition-held areas and also reporting from their regime areas, those reports suggest there has been a significant drop in violence the last few days. But there has been considerable fighting elsewhere, Melissa, and that's particularly involving Syria's al-Qaida affiliate, which isn't included in the cease-fire.

And that's interesting not just because it tells us that this cease-fire is only partial, but because it points to a broader difficulty of the negotiations of the peace talks that are ongoing, because this al-Qaida group continues to be influential on the ground, mixed up with other rebel groups, and they can't be included in the discussions. It's a redline for all of the international brokers, including Russia, who you mentioned, and the U.S., who are working on these U.N.-led talks.

BLOCK: Now, elsewhere in Syria, Alice, we've also been seeing reports that government forces are surrounding a jail where there have been riots. What can you tell us about that?

FORDHAM: Yeah, this is also kind of an intriguing and a telling scenario. The jail is in the city of Hama. It holds hundreds of people. And what seems to have happened is about a week ago, prisoners were protesting against the transfer and the likely execution of five political prisoners there. Now in the ensuing riots, the prisoners actually captured several members of the security forces and they've been holding them hostage while they've negotiated the release of some of the prisoners there.

And now a rebel group has also said it will negotiate some of its regime prisoners' release if some of the hundreds of detainees get out of Hama's jail. Diplomats and rights groups have been warning that they fear the security forces will get into the prison, they'll kill a lot of people. Mass torture and murder in regime jails is well-documented.

But again, Melissa, this speaks to a wider issue that has been been a big part of the U.N.-led talks on Syria, which is the detention, the torture of tens of thousands of detainees within President Bashar al-Assad's jails. The U.N. has talked about appointing a special official to deal with this particular issue. But as with so much in these U.N.-led talks that we have seen, the actual progress has been very limited and the situation on the ground is of chaos, violence and people taking matters into their own hands.

BLOCK: And what about that moving forward? I mean, is the cease-fire expected to hold or gain any more traction than it has now?

FORDHAM: Well, the cease-fire has lasted longer and been slightly more effective than many people thought it was going to be initially. Optimists certainly hope that the talks will continue, but there's also some suggestion that the regime may be using this period as a pause to build up for an offensive, maybe in the city of Aleppo, maybe against ISIS in the city of Raqqa or in Deir ez-Zor.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Alice Fordham reporting from Beirut. Alice, thanks very much.

FORDHAM: Thanks so much for having me, Melissa.

BLOCK: You're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.