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Children In Aleppo Experiencing 'Horrific' Violence, Says UNICEF Official

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now to Syria, where fighting and airstrikes continue today, topping a week of some of the most intense bombing attacks in the nearly six-year war targeting the eastern part of Aleppo. Airstrikes and bombs by both sides have led to an appalling milestone this weekend. Nearly 100 children have been killed since Friday, that according to the United Nations Children's Fund or UNICEF. We reached UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth in New York to talk more about this. Hello, Mr. Forsyth.

JUSTIN FORSYTH: Hello.

MARTIN: Now, you've said that the suffering and the shock among children is definitely the worst that we have seen. How has it gotten so bad?

FORSYTH: Well, the violence in Aleppo is just horrific. I mean, not only 100 children being killed, but over 200 have been injured. Children huddle in cellars every night, fearful for their lives, with their families. I just heard this morning that the water is being cut off again for the whole of Aleppo. The fighting around two of the pumping stations has led to both the east and the west being without water again, which leads to water-borne diseases. So the attacks, the bombing, the mortar fire, the shelling actually from both sides has led to this devastating situation.

MARTIN: The governments of Russia and Syria say that they are only targeting rebel forces in Aleppo and not civilians. Do these images that we are seeing suggest something else?

FORSYTH: Well, we've seen attacks on hospitals and we've seen water pumping stations being attacked. Whether it's deliberate or inadvertent, by dropping such bombs on these areas you're going to have huge casualties. This is a very built-up area. And we've seen also the rebels fire rockets and mortars. Children were killed yesterday in western Aleppo from rebel attacks. So nobody is without blame in this situation. And what we're saying is we need a cease-fire. I mean, we've got to a state where this is like a medieval siege. Water is turned off, food is running out and the medical facilities have been attacked. Eight convoys have been bombed and eight workers killed. So we're having a catastrophic situation. This is a living nightmare for the children living in Aleppo.

MARTIN: In a war, which this is, I think most people would expect to see - and I'm not celebrating this, but I am simply saying that in a war, one might expect to see a larger population of adult males being killed. Why is it that children seem to be bearing the brunt of this? Why are there so many children in this area?

FORSYTH: There's a lot of children in Aleppo. Some of them have been displaced from other parts of Syria. Also, the types of explosives that are being used in these built-up areas - and we've seen this in other conflicts - hurt and kill children particularly because they're more vulnerable. We're also seeing the psychological impact on these children. I mean, many are so frightened that they shake physically. And also, their moms and dads are feeling that fear. We've seen a big rise in suicide rates. So the combination of all of these factors - of malnutrition, of the bombing, of the mortar attacks, of the shelling - particularly hurt children. But they also hurt moms who are weak from malnutrition.

MARTIN: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday warned that the United States would stop talking to Moscow about ending the civil war unless Moscow stops the airstrikes in Aleppo. Does UNICEF have other recommendations about how the U.S. should be responding right now?

FORSYTH: Well, we're a humanitarian actor on the ground working in Aleppo, so we have to be very careful not to take sides. We're to say to all the different sides of this conflict is to firstly allow the evacuation of these very injured children - hundreds of them in eastern Aleppo. They need emergency help. Ultimately, we need an end to the war. But even in the midst of this conflict, we can stop murdering children. And we should be honest - this is murdering children. Children are being bombed. They're being mortared. And on both sides of this conflict, children are being killed, so we need to stop firing these mortars or dropping these bombs in built-up areas.

MARTIN: Justin Forsyth is the deputy executive director of UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund. As he described, it's a humanitarian organization which provides aid to children and their mothers in developing nations. He was kind enough to join us from New York. Mr. Forsyth, thank you so much for speaking with us.

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